Animal testing or animal experimentation is used in many non-human experiments that seek to control the variables that affect the behavior or biological system of the specimen tested. This method has been in use for many years, dating back to the 1940s when animals were used to test cosmetic products. During the time of animal testing, many large companies ranging from Estee Laurer to Bobbi Brown use animal experimentation as their primary method of testing their products for public consumption. However, many companies have looked negatively at the idea of animal testing, instead they use alternatives to test their products. Alternatives such as testing on human cells, cell cultures, computer models, and human volunteers. In the case of the medical field and science, it is a global law that testing on animals must be undergone before moving to human trials. Commonly, monkeys, dogs, rabbits, rats, and mice are used for animal testing, resulting in nearly “100 million” animal deaths in the US alone each year, from Slabacova. Animals are used to test drugs, vaccines, and medical devices to determine their safety before they are given to humans. Medical devices need to be checked to see how they react with an animal cell, before giving it to a human. Common medication humans take such as Synthroid, Crestor, Nexium, and many others are all tested on Rats, Dogs, Mice, and in the case of Crestor, monkeys, Rabbits, and Cats.
Considering the many alternatives there are to animal testing, one should question why humans still prefer to test medication and products on animals? And why particular animals are used in animal experimentation? When looking at global demographics, mice and monkeys are more commonly used. This is because these animals give scientists a form of clarity on finding a potential vaccine due to the genetic makeup of these two animals. In the case of mice, only genetically altered mice are susceptible to the new coronavirus. Unlike mice, monkeys have the ability to contract SARS-CoV-2, and they are able to replicate how the disease progresses in humans. This is mainly because monkeys are extremely biologically similar to humans, hence the potential for the research to apply to humans is likely. When human trials are executed after animal experimentation, it gives scientists more certainty on the relative effectiveness of the vaccine and prior research done, ensuring the human stays safe. During this period of animal experimentation, one could argue there are other ways of testing the effectiveness of the vaccine before moving to human trials, however, during the time of the SARS-CoV-2 this is not likely to be the case. This is because it is essential to obtain data in animals and characterize the immune response induced by the SARS-CoV-2 candidates in future testing. The World Health Organization has said “animal research is a fundamental step in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine for humans”, from Rozenbaum.
When looking at trial periods for vaccines and animal experimentation, scientists must only use animals that are susceptible to getting the disease. An example is the primate species who are extremely close to our own species, the humans.
According to Zhe, “a coronavirus vaccine developed in China has been proven effective in monkeys”, moving research a huge step forwards. The vaccine produced is called ‘PiCoVacc’ this was produced by Sinovac Biotech and uses a tropical method of preventing the virus from penetrating various other life forms. This company put the weakened virus inside of the animal’s body, tracking its immune system’s response in producing antibodies. In the initial research stages, the vaccine was injected into a species of Rhesus macaques monkeys who originated in India. After doing so, the monkeys were exposed to the virus three weeks later, the results were positive for scientists. The monkeys that took the largest vaccine dose did not get the virus in their lungs after being exposed, however, those that did not take the PiCoVacc vaccine developed severe pneumonia (a symptom of the novel coronavirus). Due to this successful trial, human trials are set to begin one month from now in hopes to find a novel cure for coronavirus. Many scientists such as Sarah Gilbert professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, leading the research has a high degree of confidence” of the vaccine.
Some scientists and companies around the world have turned their backs on animal testing, and are instead focusing on more sustainable methods of vaccine trials.
Scientists from Epithelix Sàrl and MatTex Life Sciences use three-dimensional reconstructed human respiratory tissue models tp study COVID-19 infection. The PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have always, and continue to support their cause through donations and funds for research. The first prototype of this system created was called the EpiAlveolar, which is a three-dimensional model composed of human cells from the lower respiratory tract. In their research, they exposed the cells in this model to the test material in the air on one side and on the other, the model can receive nourishment from nutrient-rich liquid, as they tried to capitulate the action of an actual lung. This is not the only example, in the Netherlands, researchers used the intestinal organoids, these are models of the intestine grown with human cells, to determine how SARS-CoV-2 impacts more than just the lungs. This is because the virus that spreads COVID infects that organ. The findings obtained from their experiment concludes why “one-third of COVID-19 patients experience gastrointestinal symptoms.” And these Dutch researchers continue to use human organ models to show how COVID impacts more than just the lungs. Many more institutions such as the University of Bristol, the Gauhati University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Companies in North Carolina, London, and many more are choosing to be against animal testing in this time of the pandemic - instead, human models are used to progress their own research forwards.
Whilst some view the use of animal experimentation as fundamental, as we progress into the future, many more companies are against this method of testing their medication or products.
“Alternatives to Animal Testing.” National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/science/sya-iccvam/index.cfm.
“Animals Behind Top Drugs.” Foundation for Biomedical Research, fbresearch.org/medical-advances/animal-research-achievements/animal-research-top-drugs/.
Gorman, James. “These Lab Animals Will Help Fight Coronavirus.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/science/animals-coronavirus-vaccine.html.
Liu, Angus. “COVID-19 Vaccine from China's Sinopharm Clears Animal Tests.” FierceBiotech, 11 June 2020, www.fiercebiotech.com/research/inactivated-covid-19-vaccine-by-china-s-sinopharm-clears-animal-tests.
Prater, Danny. “The Scientists Using Non-Animal Tests for a COVID-19 Vaccine.” PETA, 19 June 2020, www.peta.org/blog/coronavirus-covid-19-vaccine-non-animal-tests/.
Rozenbaum, Mia. “Can We Fight COVID-19 without Animal Testing?: Understanding Animal Research.” Understanding Animal Research, 2020, www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/news/research-medical-benefits/can-we-fight-covid-19-without-animal-testing/.
Sun, The. “China Using Gene-Edited Diseased Monkeys for 'Monstrous' Tests.” New York Post, New York Post, 24 Jan. 2019, nypost.com/2019/01/24/china-using-gene-edited-diseased-monkeys-for-monstrous-tests/.
www.ETHealthworld.com, PTI Agency. “Oxford University's Covid-19 Vaccine Test on Monkeys Shows Promise - ET HealthWorld.” ETHealthworld.com, 16 May 2020, health.economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/diagnostics/oxford-universitys-covid-19-vaccine-test-on-monkeys-shows-promise/75769588.
Zhe, Gong. “First COVID-19 Vaccine Test on Animals Successful.” 404, 2020, news.cgtn.com/news/2020-05-07/First-COVID-19-vaccine-test-on-animals-successful-Qi8WFGpvY4/index.html.