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Dr Hadwen Trust: New tests to replace painful skin and eye tests on rabbits in EU

"Withdraw rabbit test licences now" charity tells UK government

New test-tube methods to replace painful and out-dated skin and eye tests on rabbits have been approved by the scientific advisory committee of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM)(1).

Two of the methods will replace painful skin irritation tests in rabbits which currently use around 20,000 animals each year in Europe. Two other approved methods will replace the most severe rabbit eye irritancy tests used by the cosmetics and household products industry. They will also replace many rabbit eye tests for thousands of industrial chemicals that will be assessed for safety under the new REACH chemicals legislation

The announcement has been welcomed by the Dr Hadwen Trust, the UK's leading non-animal research charity which funds exclusively non-animal research projects. The charity itself funded the first-ever research into replacing the notorious rabbit eye irritancy test (2). It was a Dr Hadwen Trust scientist whose research has led to one of these tests - the BCOP assay - being approved today (3). The charity is now calling on the UK government to make an urgent response by immediately withdrawing all licences to perform the animal tests to be replaced.

Says Wendy Higgins, Dr Hadwen Trust:
"This is great news for animal welfare and human safety. Replacing painful skin and eye irritancy tests is long overdue and the Dr Hadwen Trust is proud to have played such a key research role in the development of one of these new methods. As well as causing animal suffering, the traditional eye and skin tests are notoriously unreliable, based on subjective judgements by scientists and using rabbits whose skin and eyes do not react in the same ways as those of humans. The new tests will offer consumers better protection with a more human-relevant test and bring us one step closer to an animal-test free future. We will now be calling on the UK government to ensure that licences to perform the replaced rabbit skin tests and severe eye irritancy tests are withdrawn. We will also be calling on the European Commission and the UK to massively increase the R&D budget for non-animal methods so that we can realise the scientific, economic and animal welfare advantages that they bring without having to wait decades for them to be developed and approved."

Also approved by the ECVAM committee was a test strategy for skin allergy which will also cut animal use by half, saving up to 240,000 mice in the implementation of the REACH legislation.

ENDS

1. The tests were approved April 27. The committee is composed of nominees from the EU Member States, industry, academia and animal welfare. The role of ECVAM, which is based at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre is to replace, refine and reduce methods of animal testing for cosmetics, drugs and chemicals.
2. This research by Dr Hadwen Trust-funded scientists in the 1970s and '80s made a major contribution to the non-animal methods now widely used instead of rabbits. The annual number of rabbits used in Britain for eye irritation tests has decreased by 94% over the past twenty years, saving tens of thousands of rabbits from painful eye tests.
3. The BCOP assay is the bovine corneal opacity and permeability assay, It uses isolated bovine corneas, a slaughterhouse by-product, instead of living rabbits. .

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