I’ve never met a person willing to admit a tolerance for animal cruelty. However, animal cruelty is quietly accepted by most of us. Case in point: The government requires every new compound that you might be exposed to – whether it’s the latest wonder drug, lipstick shade, pesticide or food dye – to be tested to make sure it isn’t toxic. This testing usually results in a torturous life and death for many lab animals.
When it comes to corporate budget sheets, saving animals can seem a minor concern. One exception to that mindset is Allergan Inc. of Irvine, Calif., the manufacturer of Botox. Allergan announced last June that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved its new method to test Botox’s potency. Instead of testing every batch on live animals, Allergan can now run a test on cells in a lab dish.
It took Allergan scientists 10 years to perfect this test. If approved in all the countries where Botox is sold, Allergan predicts 95 percent of its animal testing could be eliminated within three years.
U.S. agencies have already approved alternative tests for experiments on animals’ eyes and skin. Scientists are now focusing on humane testing of toxins. These tests could make animal toxicity experiments obsolete in 10 to 20 years, according to the FDA.
In addition to being humane, alternative tests promise better results more quickly and cheaply than classic tests on animals.
Most scientists who experiment on animals prefer not to do so, according to a 2006 survey by the journal Nature. The survey found 78 percent of biologists want to eliminate animal experiments – but only 80 percent of those thought it would ever be possible.
According to the Department of Agriculture, laboratories in the U.S. experiment on nearly 1 million mammals each year. However, that number excludes animals not protected by the U.S. Animal Welfare Act. According to the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, an animal advocacy science publication, the number of research animals is closer to 17 million, including rodents, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.
The Johns Hopkins Center estimates that alternatives to animal toxicity tests could save between 10 and 25 percent of these animals. The remaining animals are used in biomedical research labs.
Animal toxicity tests are classic scientific experiments – despite the fact they don’t yield the best results. They often fail to accurately predict a toxin’s effect on people. For instance: chocolate is bad for dogs but okay for people. Toxicity tests don’t even reveal how a toxin sickens an animal, only if it kills the animal.
That’s the principle behind the “Lethal Dose, 50 percent” test, invented in 1927. It determines how much toxin will kill half the animals exposed to it. Until recently, that was the test Allergan used.
Allergan scientists decided to think outside that box. This enabled them to apply their understanding of animal and human anatomy towards an unlikely bioterrorism agent called botulinum toxin. This agent, designed to cause paralysis, was found to not only eliminate unwanted frown lines but treat 21 other conditions, including migraines and muscle spasms.
Thanks to Allergan’s compassionate leadership, the need to kill millions of lab animals in order to approve household products may soon be a thing of the past.