Speaking to CORDIS News at the JRC exhibition in the European Parliament on 27 April, Raffaella Corvi, responsible for the carcinogenicity activities at ECVAM explained that through its quest for state-of-the-art non-animal test development and validation.
ECVAM was created by the European Commission in 1991 to reduce the use of animals by seeking viable alternatives in experimental and scientific purposes. ECVAM state that: "...an experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available."
Dr Corvi commented that one of the great successes of ECVAM was the validation of three alternative tests in the field of chemical-induced skin corrosion and phototoxicity.
Current guidelines allow test material to be applied on the shaved skin of albino rabbits. The rabbits, following exposure to the test material of up to 4 hours, were observed for any signs of necrosis of the skin. This could take up to 21 days, creating pain and suffering for the animals.
"One of the newly validated methods, however, makes use of reconstituted human skin, thereby avoiding the need for animal testing and saving the animals a lot of suffering," added Dr Corvi.
She added that the use of in-vitro alternatives for skin corrosion testing and phototoxicity of chemicals has become mandatory in the EU. Substances can no longer be tested on animals.
It is usually the industry that develops alternative methods for screening but in order to completely replace animal testing for regulatory purposes, it is necessary to assess the scientific validity of the test explained Dr Corvi.
"There are lots of alternative tests around but not all of them are developed enough or validated."
"The validation of these tests is carried out on a weight of evidence approach and some regulatory institutions already accept the test. However the JRC wants to go further in order to provide a valid harmonised test at international level," Dr Corvi said.
At present, the only accepted test is a two-year animal test that requires testing on a high number of animals. It also costs one million euros for the analysis of a single substance.
According to this method, if the chemical used in the experiment is non-carcinogenic, the cell growth will be in a mono-layer, while if the cell growth is irregular this means that the chemical is potentially carcinogenic. To validate this test, ECVAM is currently comparing in-vitro with in-vivo data.
"Although test on animals will still be necessary in this very critical area of carcinogenicity, any reduction in the number of animals used, is a victory," concluded Dr Corvi.