In this feature, we wanted to share with our supporters an interesting technology we have come across in the last year. This new technology aims to help out many of the animals that go largely un-noticed by the public as part of pharmaceutical and toxic substance research by reducing or even possibly eliminating the need for animal testing.
In 2015 in the US alone, over 760,000[Ref. 1] animals were used in laboratories across the country for testing a host of things from pharmaceuticals to cosmetics. While this number may seem staggering, it should be noted that it does not even account for rats, mice, birds, and fish. Statistics for the total number of these other animals involved in laboratory testing are not available as they are unfortunately not included under the Animal Welfare Act, but it is fair to say their inclusion in the total figure would push it significantly higher. Animals that were included in this figure include pigs, sheep, dogs, cats, and (non-human) primates just to name a few.
Enter Elizabeth Wheeler, Principle Investigator at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory leading a research team devoted to developing the iCHIP [Ref. 2] (short for ‘in-vitro Chip-based Human Investigational Platform.’) While the concept of a “lab on a chip” takes its roots from micro-manufacturing processes originating out of the advent of semiconductor industry, the heart of the technology was first developed out of Stanford in 1979 in the form of a gas chromatograph (a specialized piece of equipment for analyzing chemical compounds.)
The iCHIP offers several advantages in the way it couples many different types of cells on a single test medium. This new approach allows the iCHIP to provide a more faithful representation of how different systems of the human body would interact under the influence of different pharmaceuticals and toxins. This new advance in testing poses both an ethical as well as a technological advantage and perhaps one day a cost advantage to the industry at large. These advances along with positive policy shifts are key to moving the industry into a new era where animal testing is a thing of the past.
We at Sweet Farm are very excited about this new piece of technology and look forward to the continued advances in this area of science that provides two-fold benefit of more faithful testing for application to humans while providing an alternate means to animal testing.