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Better Science Without Animal Suffering Showcased at World Congress on Alternatives 2014

11/09/2014 15:50 BST | Updated 10/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Humane Society International's global #BeCrueltyFree team has just returned from the World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences held in Prague, and we're feeling inspired!

Held every three years, the Congress is the premier global event for scientists, policy experts, regulators, companies and animal advocates to join in dialogue about reducing and replacing animals in research and testing. Attracting more than 1,000 delegates from all over the world, visitors and exhibitors included cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies, in vitro specialists, universities profiling their latest non-animal replacement techniques, and NGOs, like us, championing the replacement of animals with more humane, state-of-the-art alternatives.

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HSI's global #BeCrueltyFree team at World Congress

Now is an incredibly exciting moment in the history and evolution of non-animal science. In years past, science simply couldn't deliver the high-tech solutions needed to overcome the scientific uncertainty of animal tests. In the absence of better alternatives, inadequate animal methods became established as part of the scientific mainstream. Partly as a consequence, researchers have struggled to make meaningful progress in treating and curing some of the world's major diseases despite decades of effort.

Only two asthma treatments have emerged in the last half century; just one effective stroke drug has been developed in recent decades.

The limitations of using animals as models for human biology are played out in the slow progress of some of our most challenging human health concerns. For the first time ever, the expanding suite of advanced human biology-based research solutions available in the laboratory is now making traditional animal approaches outdated. The excuse that a more scientifically credible alternative is not available to replace a poorly-performing animal approach no longer holds water.

HSI's #EndAnimalTesting team espouses the scientific and ethical advantages of alternatives all over the world. Our teams in India, China, Brazil, the United States and elsewhere are at the forefront of progressive campaigning and policy work that brings together scientists and legislators to make change happen. So it was incredibly exciting to be surrounded by so many of the scientific community's trailblazers at the World Congress - the bench scientists, engineers, technology experts and biologists who dedicate themselves to pushing science forward.

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Companies such as Mat Tek, Cellec Biotek, Vitrocell Systems and Epithelix showcased just some of the innovative human-relevant tools that are transforming the way we test chemicals and pharmaceuticals today. Bioengineered organs-on-a-chip and next-generation computer modeling, were also on display, the tool kit that allows scientists to study the underlying biology of human disease at the cellular and molecular level more quickly, cheaply and accurately than ever before.

One of the most memorable presentations came from a German organ-on-a-chip company called TissUse, creating artificial 'humans', and slated to play a major future role in eliminating the use of millions of animals in laboratory testing. TissUse's technology simulates human responses to a range of substances inhaled, absorbed in the gut or circulated through the bloodstream, and artificial lungs, livers, kidneys and more are already being used to test chemicals and pharmaceuticals.

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Credit: Wyss Institute

Organs-on-a-chip are just one of the future-forward technologies that have exploded onto the scientific scene in recent years. Researchers at the Wyss Institute have already made enormous strides forward in pioneering this technology and are now working on making it commercially available.

As well as improving the quality of medical research and product testing, global consulting firm McKinsey & Company predict that next generation human-based technologies could also boost the economy by up to $1.6 trillion per year by 2025 in terms of jobs, engineering and new research investments. The European Union is the world's largest market for in vitro testing, an undoubted consequence of its historic ban on cosmetics animal testing in 2009 and subsequent ban in 2013 on the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics. As the then Commissioner reflected at the time of the sales ban, necessity is the mother of invention.

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Sara Amundson for #BeCrueltyFree USA

The economic, scientific and ethical advantages of ending animal testing in the cosmetics industry formed the central pillar of HSI's global #BeCrueltyFree session that closed the World Congress. #BeCrueltyFree teams came from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Europe, Korea and the U.S., bringing regulators and government representatives from Brazil, India and Canada. Our dedicated session titled "Cosmetics around the world" showcased the work of what has become the defining global campaign to end cosmetics testing on animals.

Our #BeCrueltyFree India campaigner, Alokparna Sengupta, and India's Deputy Drugs Controller, A.K. Pradhan, were in much demand at the Congress, updating delegates on our success in banning animal testing of cosmetics and progress toward banning the sale of animal tested cosmetics abroad. The Indian government has also expressed an interest in exploring other scientifically and economically advantageous opportunities to reduce and replace animal testing for pharmaceuticals, vaccines and medical devices.

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#BeCrueltyFree India's Alokparna Sengupta and India's Deputy Drug Controller General

#BeCrueltyFree China's Irene Zhang from Beijing and Tina Qu from Shanghai also reported on China's progress towards a cruelty-free cosmetics future. Although historically the uptake of alternatives by Chinese scientists has been slow, #BeCrueltyFree China has seen increased interest in non-animal tests in the past year. In March, we partnered with the Institute for In Vitro Sciences to provide hands-on training to Chinese scientists in some of the latest in vitro tests for cosmetics safety.

Our #BeCrueltyFree Brazil team had the opportunity to set the record straight on precisely where we are in pursuing a Brazilian ban on cosmetics animal testing. The Chamber of Deputies passed a bill that will now be considered by the Senate. However, this bill needs urgent amending to close serious loopholes. The current bill, if passed unchanged, would unfortunately not end all or even most animal testing for cosmetics in Brazil. Our team in Brasilia is having to work extremely hard to make sure that Brazil has a cosmetics test ban worth celebrating.

HSI and The Humane Society of the United States left the World Congress buoyed by the enthusiasm and dedication of so many inspiring people unified in the goal of improving science by replacing animals in the laboratory. The growing participation of representatives from emerging countries was noticeable at this World Congress. HSI is determined to achieve substantial reductions in animal use in these regions, and we were proud to bring so many of our global team together to discuss exciting future strategies to achieve that goal.

As our #BeCrueltyFree team disperses across the globe, we will take with us back to Taiwan, Japan, Australia and beyond the knowledge that we are not alone but part of an impressive network of international experts and advocates who, like us, want to see a cruelty-free future.

On a personal note, it feels appropriate that I'm now heading to London to again participate as a judge for The Lush Prize. Now in its third year, The Lush Prize supports animal-free testing by awarding money prizes totalling £250,000. The entries we receive for campaigning, lobbying, scientific breakthroughs, and young scientists working in the field of alternatives, always set an exceptional standard and it is an honour to assess them. If this year's entries are anything to go by, our cruelty-free future looks very bright indeed.

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