The four in vitro tests have been designed to provide an alternative to animal testing through the use of cell or tissue cultures and have just received the endorsement of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which publishes guidelines for industry on toxicity testing requirements.
Chemicals must be adequately tested in order to identify potential hazards to human and animal health, and to the environment. The new OECD guidelines include the recommendation that testing previously done on animals should only be carried out on cell or tissue cultures, according to a Cordis report.
It is estimated that 15,000 animals are currently used every year in Europe in order to test for just two possible health effects of chemicals - skin corrosion and phototoxicity. Using in vitro testing methods will not only significantly reduce animal suffering, cutting the number of animals used in toxicity experiments by up to 6 per cent, but will could reduce costs to industry.
Roughly €12 million is currently spent on these two animal tests in Europe every year, whereas an in vitro test using a reconstituted human skin model costs half the amount of an animal test.
It is expeced that use of the tests could go some way towards mitigating the cost to industry of implementing the European Commission's new REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) proposals. A recent report from Mercer Management Consulting on behalf of the French chemical industry association (UIC) could be as high €800 million in testing alone, lead to the loss of 360,000 jobs and drive some smaller companies out of business.
The new tests are the first to undergo full validation with the help of the European Centre for the Validation of Aternative Methods (ECVAM).