Alternatives to animal testing

Despite the claims of extremist animal protesters, scientists do not in fact relish the use of animals in tests of new pharmaceutical and other chemical products and are continually searching for valid alternatives that might reduce the numbers of small mammals, for instance used in pesticide safety tests.

According to Jennifer Rohn writing in this week’s issue of Chemistry & Industry magazine, the thousands of test animals currently need for pesticide evaluation might be replaced by tricking ticks into setting up home on a faux cowhide. The hide, developed by Swiss researchers consists of a skin-like silicone membrane, complete with hair that rests over a layer of cow’s blood. The insects are so comfortable with the faux-cow that they set up home, mate and lay eggs.

Currently, some 10,000 animals are used annually to test new tick-fighting chemicals because pesticides to kill Lyme-disease carrying ticks and other insects are constantly being updated.

Thomas Kröber and Patrick Guerin at the University of Neuchâtel confirmed the effectiveness of their test bed using a standard tick pesticide, firponil, and observing central nervous system damage revealed by leg trembling in the ticks. They report details in the journal Pest Management Science.

Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, said: This research takes a simple idea and applies it to great effect, resulting in a potentially significant impact on animal use. Most importantly, it demonstrates that finding ways to reduce the use of animals in research and testing is as much about improving the science as it is about considering the welfare of animals.’

Obviously, the tick test avoids the need to test on rodents or other laboratory mammals, but it remains a devastating blow to tick lovers everywhere.