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Plan Expedites Alternatives to Animal Testing

By Robin Mackar
March 2008

Stokes is also an Assistant Surgeon General in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Stokes is also an Assistant Surgeon General in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A new plan to further reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research and regulatory testing, commonly referred to as the 3Rs, was unveiled at a symposium February 5 in Bethesda, Md. marking the 10-year anniversary of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). A cornerstone of the federal government's five-year plan is the formation of partnerships with industry and other national and international stakeholders to achieve measurable progress.

NIEHS is one of the fifteen federal regulatory and research agencies that make up ICCVAM. One of the speakers at the symposium was William Stokes, D.V.M., director of the National Toxicology Program ( Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM).

"We've made great progress in the past decade, and with the help of our partners we can do even more to increase the pace of developing and introducing alternative methods," he said of the group's accomplishments. "By incorporating recent advances in science and technology, new alternative test methods can be developed that will benefit animal welfare by reducing, refining and replacing animal use, and that will benefit public health by ensuring continued or improved protection of human and animal health and the environment."

Stokes was one of nearly 200 scientists, public attendees, advocates, media representatives and invited guests participating in a scientific symposium. ICCVAM is a permanent interagency committee composed of representatives from agencies which use, generate or disseminate toxicological information.

"ICCVAM has a proven track record of thoroughly reviewing test methods and has established an excellent blueprint for advancing the 3Rs, and for advancing the health and safety of our nation as well," said Marilyn Wind, Ph.D., deputy associate executive director of the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the chair of ICCVAM.

ICCVAM does not conduct research itself. Instead, the committee promotes the development, validation and regulatory acceptance of scientifically sound new, revised and alternative testing methods brought forth by government and industry labs that protect human and animal health and the environment. Based its evaluation of new methods, ICCVAM makes recommendations about their usefulness to federal regulatory agencies.

Traditionally, chemicals, consumer products, medical devices and new drugs are tested on animals to predict toxicity on humans. Alternative test methods are those that accomplish one or more of the 3Rs so animals experience less pain and distress, or replace animals with non-animal systems.

Stokes highlighted some of the progress made since ICCVAM was formed, including the evaluation of more than 185 test methods since its inception in 1997. Many of these methods need further development and validation before they are ready for regulatory consideration. However, several are now in widespread use around the world for routine safety testing, resulting in notable reduction and refinement of animal use.

Stokes said ICCVAM will emphasize the use of new technologies to develop predictive systems that would be less reliant or not at all reliant on animals. Technologies touted by the National Research Council and the NTP, including high throughput screening techniques that can screen large numbers of potentially hazardous chemicals at one time and toxicogenomics, for example, will be studied and incorporated where they can to provide more accurate and timely public health decisions.

A high priority for ICCVAM, Stokes added, will be to focus on evaluating alternatives to test methods that use a large number of animals or that can involve significant pain and stress, including safety tests for ocular (eye) injuries, dermal (skin) damage, acute poisoning and tests for biologics such as vaccines. Additional priorities include safety tests to determine if products and chemicals may cause other adverse health effects such as cancer, birth defects, infertility and allergic responses.

The five-year plan was developed over a 12-month period with multiple opportunities for input, including a public Town Meeting held in June 2006. The NICEATM-ICCVAM Five-Year Plan is available online.

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