Lab rats' time may be limited

Rodents are commonly used in testing as their genetic, behaviour and biological characteristics closely mimic those of humans (iStock)
Rodents are commonly used in testing as their genetic, behaviour and biological characteristics closely mimic those of humans (iStock)

Rats and mice will be letting out squeaks of relief -- their days in the lab may be numbered, with progress being made in developing alternatives to traditional animal testing.

Cell-based methods could be used to predict how toxic chemical components are to humans, potentially eliminating the need to test the toxicity on animals.

While there is still some way to go, the study's authors suggest the new testing method could be a significant improvement over the current.

"According to a 2004 Food and Drug Administration report, 92 percent of new drugs that passed animal testing failed in human clinical trials because of lack of effect or unexpected toxicity," the US team reports. "More recent studies show that animal data predicted human outcomes only around half of the time."

They say further testing needs to be done to compare the results from the cell-based methods with human data, rather than the current comparison with the results from animals.

"Our results suggest that in vitro [cell-based] activity profiles can be applied as signatures of compound mechanism of toxicity and used in prioritisation for more in-depth toxicological testing."

The Tox21 project aims to develop better methods for testing the toxicity of compounds such as drugs, industrial chemicals, food additives and pesticides. More than 10,000 chemicals were tested as part of the project.

Rodents are commonly used in testing as their genetic, behaviour and biological characteristics closely mimic those of humans.

Often the small mammals are inbred to ensure their genetics are almost identical, limiting unknown factors in testing.

The ethics involved using animals for testing is hotly debated, and this new development may be able to finally take lab rats out of the equation.

The findings were published today in the Nature Communications journal.

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