The Computer Program That Could See An End To Animal Testing

Could animal testing soon be abolished by advances in computerised toxicology?

There’s no escaping the harrowing facts and figures surrounding animal testing. Each year the Office Of National Statistics releases their Annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures On Living Animals, which details the sad truth of present; use of animals in experimental scientific testing shows no rate of slowing down. However, this all may about to change. Scientists have developed technological advances in the form of an exciting new computer programme, which assesses the safety and toxicology of any new chemical, within a matter of seconds. Leaving animal testing, obsolete.

Two Caged Rats
Caged Rats: Photo by Alex Smith from Pexels

The future of toxicology is digital

Researchers at The Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing, Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, are pioneering this innovative technology as a modern alternative to the traditional animal-based methods of safety testing. Methods which currently claims the lives of millions of animals every year. The program known as Rasar (Read-Across-based Structure Activity Relationship) was first introduced to the global scientific community at the 2018 Euroscience Open Forum by the university’s Professor Thomas Hartung. Rasar is a large computerised database of chemical structures, which maps the toxicology levels of known chemical agents used in industry, such as those found in fertilisers. Using Rasar, researchers are able to test the safety of newly created chemicals instantly. No animals used. No life taken.

New and advanced technology

As reported in the journal Toxicological Sciences, July 2018, the researchers were able to successfully predict the toxic properties of any chemical compound, with a higher level of accuracy than when using a single animal test. A news release by the University detailed how Rasar was able to correctly detect chemical toxicology with an average of 87% accuracy, which for a primary scientific trial, is an extremely promising first result. The result becomes even more promising when you consider that animal-based toxicology tests for the exact same chemicals that were ran through Rasar’s computer, average only 81% accuracy.

Professor Hartung explains: “These results are a real eye-opener – they suggest that we can replace many animal tests with computer-based prediction and get more reliable results.” Hartung added: “Our automated approach clearly outperformed the animal test, in a very solid assessment using data on thousands of different chemicals and tests,…so it’s big news for toxicology.”

What’s more, this scientific breakthrough has received interest from the US Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency. Both are keen to explore the idea of using Rasar as a substitute for animal testing across drugs, cosmetics and other household items. The university’s development team has also began work with larger scale technology companies, to help them test for toxic components within their products. A step in the right direction.

A perfect time for change

This pioneering program comes at an apt time in our history of abolishing animal testing across the board. Retailers such as Superdrug, and big name cosmetic brands including Kat Von D, and most recently, Primark’s PS range  have been keen to push their eco-stance on cruelty-free cosmetics. An increasing number of companies are improving their testing procedures, eliminating animals from their product development as a response to the rise in consumer awareness. As such, demand for ethical products continues to grows, and so too does the need for an ethical but yet effective method of toxicology testing. Rasar could be the answer that we are looking for to finally put a stop to animal testing. In the meantime, what can the ethical consumer do to prevent unnecessary suffering?

Just how much cruelty is regulated?

Conscious consumers would seemingly be able to easily identify products which have not been tested on animals using Cruelty Free International’s leaping bunny logo, which proudly adorns a whole variety of vegan-certified makeup, household goods and cleaning products. But just how free-from harm is this global certification?

Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny
Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny

Whilst Cruelty Free International certifies the protection of non-human animals such as rabbits, rats and mice, current EU laws allow the testing of chemicals to be carried out upon Daphnia (microscopic water flees) following aquatic water safety guidelines. This issue was brought to our attention when it was uncovered that popular household brand Ecover was testing on Daphnia, back in 2008. It remains unclear as to whether the company still chooses to test on Daphnia in 2018. What is clear however, is that whilst there remains quite a difference between a rabbit and a water flea, one can’t help that feel a living animal deserves equal protection from harm, despite size or taxonomic classification.

An end to animal testing in your home

As a consumer, it is your ultimate buying power that can help support companies whom actively disparage animal testing. What better way to help put an end to animal cruelty than to fill your cleaning cupboards, bathrooms and makeup bags with cruelty-free items. I am hopeful that the future of animal testing will soon become digitalized, and we may end our harmful relationship with trialling chemicals upon those whom don’t have a voice.

If you’re interested in animal ethics, you may enjoy this post from The Vegan Bear – it addresses the RSPCA’s unexpected answer to a straightfoward question: “Can I eat my dog?

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