What are the non-animal based methods for research, testing and teaching?
This is such a broad question and it is way too open to answer succinctly as there are many different types of research to cover. However, since is such a commonly asked question we have summarised some of the different types of research that exist that are more reliable than animal-based experiments.
It is important to note that with such a vast variety of animal-based research being conducted, it would not be possible to know of an alternative for everything. There is also a strong need for more alternatives to be developed simply because animals are not appropriate models for predicting the human response.
Human-based/ non-animal research
This is the best kind of research when it comes to finding cures and medicines for humans. This doesn’t mean jumping straight to testing drugs and medicines directly on human volunteers instead of animals, despite the common misconception.
The truth is that human-based research involves a broad range of bio-technologies that are human-relevant. They use advanced and current biological knowledge of the human species to study human diseases and develop drugs which are safe and effective in humans.
Below we have listed some examples. Note: this is not an extensive list as there as so many different types of non-animal-based research and human-based research methods.
Toxicology/ regulatory testing
Testing chemicals such as drugs, household products, pesticides and cosmetics on animals is time-consuming and expensive, and the results can generally not be applied accurately to humans.
Predicting the potential risks that a chemical has to human health or the environment can easily be done without the use of animals.
Testing can start with in silico methods and high-throughput screening to find patterns of activity that can then be followed up with targeted testing using cell or tissue models. Large groups of untested chemicals can also be assessed in this way.
In Silico Methods
These are sophisticated computer models. These can help provide information about chemicals and their health effects. Automated decisions trees can be built using knowledge of hundreds of chemicals and predict how likely it is that a new chemical will cause a certain kind of toxicity.
Chemicals made up of similar structure fragments can be grouped together and compared, allowing toxicologists to “read across” from a chemical with data to one without. And healthy virtual cells or even entire organs can be created and then used to simulate what might happen when exposed to a particular chemical.
High-Throughput Screening can perform many different tests—maximizing cell types, or amounts or mixtures of chemicals—very quickly: These assays usually test chemical activity at the molecular level. 
Human-based research will always be the most relevant and reliable when trying to find treatments and cures for human disease.
Some researchers believe that animals have to be used in the early stages of developing a treatment or cure. However, this is only making the research flawed from the very beginning.
Many human diseases are also not found naturally in animals so they are artificially induced. This creates a whole set of new problems as the disease being studied is slightly (or dramatically) different to that found in humans.
Some researchers will also argue that they need to test on an entire living system. This is correct to a degree; it does need to be tested in a living system but that system also needs to be of the same species. Using a battery of human-based tests would be more predictive of human outcomes, compared to using an entirely different species.
This would safer for humans as before clinical trials start, researchers will have more applicable data to humans to predict their response.
Examples where animal models for medical research have failed by Dr Aysha Atkar
In 2006, the Diabetes Research Institute announced that after over thirty years of experiments on mice and rats, researchers discovered that the internal structure and function of the human pancreatic islet cell, which is central to the development of diabetes, are dramatically different from that in the “well-studied rodent”. As one of the researchers stated:
“We can no longer rely on studies on mice and rats. It is now imperative that we focus on human islets. At the end of the day, it is the only way to understand how they function.”
In humans, stroke is usually caused by the gradual narrowing of a blood vessel to the brain by atherosclerosis or by a blood clot that developed in another part of the body. Animals in labs don’t naturally get strokes. Experimenters artificially induce strokes by methods such as clamping off major blood vessels in animals’ brains or artificially inserting clots into their vessels. Here are the problems with this:
Problem 1: Artificially inducing stroke in animals does not recreate the complex physiology that causes the natural disease in humans, which may develop over decades.
Problem 2: Animal stroke models don’t usually include the underlying conditions, which contribute to human stroke.
Problem 3: Artificially inducing in animals the underlying conditions that lead to human stroke does not replicate the processes that occur in humans.
Recognition of each difference between animal models and human diseases leads to renewed efforts to eliminate these differences. But in trying to recreate the complex physiology behind the human diseases, experimenters try to reproduce the complex physiology of the underlying conditions, which are just as difficult to accomplish. Thus animal experimenters are continuously going around in circles.
Stroke is probably one of the easiest human diseases to try to recreate in animals. Yet, over 150 stroke drugs found effective in animal stroke models failed in humans.
Even when human genes are inserted into animals, the diseases that develop are still notably different from human diseases. This is because those human genes will be affected by all the genetic determinants and physiological mechanisms that are unique to those species. Animal experiments in Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and Parkinson’s disease are perfect examples of this.
A more accurate and relevant method would be to instead use a battery of human-based tests before moving into clinical trials.
These human-based tests could be:
There is a wide range of scanning technologies that can reveal processes in living humans. The images produced are now truly remarkable and are especially useful in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's.
Microdosing involves giving a very small amount of a substance - less than one-hundredth of the quantity expected to have a noticeable effect - to a volunteer or patient. Body fluids are then analysed to see how the body has responded, or PET imaging is employed to ascertain how the substance behaves in specific organs. This technique has already been used successfully to test drugs for cardiovascular disease, pain, Alzheimer's disease and gastrointestinal disorders.
Microfluidic devices contain human tissue samples in tiny chambers linked by microchannels. Fluids and chemicals flow in a natural way between different compartments, simulating conditions in the human body. The technology can help scientists to understand how cancers spread, for example. Microfluidics can investigate human tissues and organ systems, with the creation of 'bioreactor' designed to supply nutrients and remove waste products.
For example Human-on a chip
“Human-on-a-chip” models use real human cells inside tiny silicon chips. Several chips with different types of human cells inside can be linked together so that scientists can see how the mini “organs” react together and communicate with one another.
There are continuous developments with this technology. The Harvard University’s Wyss Institute has recently developed lung-on-a-chip, which can mimic the complicated mechanical and biochemical behaviours of a human lung.
Ethically-sourced human organs can be used in experiments; for example, it is common to test potential asthma triggers or therapies with isolated tracheas.
Sophisticated computer programs
These can simulate complex human systems, form a single organ to the entire body. These computer systems use data from real humans. Computer simulations have been developed, for example, to predict the behaviour of a drug in the digestive system. These simulations are likely to predict such effects in humans more accurately than animal models, and in a much more efficient way.
Human tissues or organ systems
Human tissues or organ systems can also be recreated in laboratories. For example, Human lymph nodes have been created in the laboratory and can be employed to test vaccines and biologically-based drugs, like the TGN1412 monoclonal antibody, which - having been passed as safe on the basis of tests on monkeys - went on to cause catastrophic injuries to human trial subjects.
Epidemiology involves the study of significant numbers of people over a period of years, comparing their lifestyles, genes, medical interventions, environments, social status, etc. It remains a powerful tool with huge potential and has already produced enormously valuable findings, including the link between smoking and lung cancer. 
Plus many more other methods!
Read more about how some of these human-based methods are used in research into human diseases, such as cancer and Parkinson’s disease here
There are many different types of non-animal based teaching methods that include replacements for dissections. These include synthetic animal models, digitalised animal models, virtual organs as well as many other methods.
These are available for a wide range or teaching types including, veterinary training, training university students and straining medical students.
The availability of these non-animal methods is so big that currently, 100% percent of medical schools in the US and Canada have ended live animal use for medical student training. These medical schools now use non-animal based methods such as lifelike interactive and programmable simulators that better replicate human anatomy and physiology.
See some of these for yourself or find out more info at:
Many of these human-based technologies are held back by outdated regulatory restrictions and lack of public funding.
NZ doesn’t have any specific requirements for animal testing but other countries do. If we want to export medicines and drugs to other countries, then New Zealand based researchers need to adhere to these requirements.
Luckily there are organizations and groups of people all around the world who are working hard to change these outdated international regulations or to develop and fund more non-animal based methods! These innovative organisations include:
- National Centre for the Replacement Refinement &Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3RS): The NC3Rs is a UK-based scientific organisation dedicated to replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research and testing (note: NZAVS does not promote the 3Rs).
- MatTek: MatTek Corporation are experts in tissue engineering and they are the world leader in the production of 3D reconstructed human tissue models.
- Animal Free Research UK: They are the UK’s leading non-animal medical research charity. They fund and promote the development of techniques and procedures to replace the use of animals in biomedical research.
- The International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER): Based in Chicago, IFER are a charity who fund scientists who are developing credible alternatives to animal models and testing protocols and also to graduate students seeking to incorporate animal welfare concerns and innovative technologies into their studies. They support the development, validation and implementation of innovative scientific methodologies that advance science and replace the use of animals in research, testing and education.
- European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM): EURL EXVAM works to validate methods which reduce, refine or replace the use of animals for safety testing and efficacy/potency testing of chemicals, biologicals and vaccines. Research laboratories are able to submit to EURL ECVAM for scientific validation of the alternative methods to animal testing that they have developed.
- XCELLR8: Based in the UK, XCellR8 provide completely cruelty-free testing solutions for the cosmetics industry including key safety tests such as skin and eye irritation, skin sensitisation, skin corrosion, genotoxicity and cytotoxicity.
- The Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM): They are an interagency committee of the U.S. Government. ICCVAM’s members are scientists representing the heads of 15 U.S. Federal regulatory and research agencies that require, use, generate, or disseminate toxicological information. This information is used to determine the safety or potential adverse health effects of chemicals and products to which workers and consumers may be exposed.
- Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University(WYSS): Based in the US, WYSS work to find human-based advancements in technology, and for example they are using organs-on-a-chip to accelerate development of new pharmaceuticals, identify toxins in the environment, and treat life-threatening diseases, such as sepsis in hospitalized patients.
- European Partnership for Alternative approaches to Animal testing (EPPA) - They are a voluntary collaboration between the European Commission, European trade associations, and companies from seven industry sectors. They combine their knowledge and resources to accelerate the development, validation and acceptance of alternative approaches to animal use in regulatory testing.
- The Alternatives Research & Development Foundation (ARDF): They fund and promote the development, validation, and adoption of non-animal methods in biomedical research, product testing, and education. They work with partners in the science community to bring alternatives technology and compassion to modern laboratories and classrooms.
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM): Since 1985, the Physicians Committee has been working towards finding alternatives to the use of animals in medical education and research and advocating for more effective scientific methods. Their staff of physicians, dietitians, and scientists are working with policymakers, industry, the medical community, the media, and the public to create a better future for people and animals.
Plus so many more!
Why does this matter?
If everyone knew how scientifically flawed animal-based research is, then it would quickly lose its social license.
Researchers doing animal-based research, government representatives and members of the general public often believe that animal-based research is necessary to save human lives. They believe this with little or no evidence, simply because that is what they are taught by the industry.
To abolish vivisection, we need to teach more people the truth about vivisection and inform them that there are many other, more relevant and reliable non-animal methods that could either be used or developed in place of cruel and outdated animal-based tests!
That’s a big part of our job at NZAVS. You can help us continue our work in areas such as public awareness by making a donation today. We are going to need all the help we can get to abolish vivisection in NZ!
 Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine(PCRM), http://www.pcrm.org/
 Speaking of human based research, http://www.speakingofhumanbasedresearch.com/
Non-animal based research updates can be found here