At the end of August, almost 1000 people attended the ‘Fifth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences’ in Berlin, the majority of whom were scientists. Many of the delegates have worked for years to develop scientific methods that can exceed the stringent ‘validation criteria’ set for them, in the hope that they will be accepted and used in preference to the animal tests that could never reach the same standards – and indeed have never been required to do so. The scientists presented evidence of amazing developments and progress that promise to revolutionise our approach to the testing of drugs and chemicals, and the use of animals in medical research. Examples include computer programmes that can predict the toxicity of drugs and chemicals with unprecedented accuracy; the use of human stem cells to assess the hazards posed by these substances; new models of the skin to test for harmful absorption and corrosion properties; enhanced use of ‘genomic’ technologies to screen drugs and to elucidate the causes of human disease.
The presentation of a study invalidating animal-based testing of potential human carcinogens, co-authored by our Science Director Dr Jarrod Bailey, won one of only two conference prizes for its scientific merit, beating off competition from 350 others. Dr Bailey was also invited to present his study on the futility of animal testing for substances that can cause birth defects, which was very well received.