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Scientists are trying to move away from using animals for testing neurotoxins

Posted October 30, 2019

Animal models are still unbelievably widely used in modern scientific research. It may sound cruel and some of the experiments that scientists are doing are definitely unpleasant to even know about, but it is unavoidable. However, the good news is that scientists are trying to get away from using animal models. For example, now a new University of Queensland-led research showcased a new animal-free testing method of lethal neurotoxins.

Currently it is not possible to research neurotoxins without using animal models that have to be euthanized later. Image credit: Rama via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 2.0 fr)

Neurotoxins may sound like a bad business, but they are actually being studied as a way of treating many diseases related to central nervous system. Using animal models to test those neurotoxins is cheap and efficient, but does take time. Furthermore, those animals have to be euthanized so that scientists could extract some tissues and study them. There were other ways of studying some of the properties of those neurotoxins, but they were crazy inefficient. Until now.

Scientists in Australia found a new animal-free way of testing neurotoxins. They used optical probes, dipped them into a solution containing the venoms and then measures the binding to these probes by analysing changes in the light reflected back. This helps acquiring some critical knowledge about those substances. Although this method cannot completely eliminate the need for animal models in testing some of the paralytic neurotoxins, this will significantly reduce the numbers of those animals needed.

Studying venoms or neurotoxins is important in many different ways. First of all, humans share this Earth with many venomous animals. In order to develop an effective anti-venom, scientists need to understand the mechanism of neurotoxins at play. Also, those neurotoxins are so efficient at blocking some of the receptors in animal’s nervous system, scientists are intrigued about the possibility of using components of neurotoxins in treatment of some diseases.

Professor Bryan Fry, one of the authors of the study, said: “For example, we’ve showed that temple pit viper venom has an unusual cross-reactivity for the human alpha-5 receptor, which is a major target for conditions including colitis and smoking. Who knows what other potential treatments the world’s venoms could lead to – we’re excited to find out”.

Scientists will still use animals for various tests for years to come. It is a sacrifice we have to make so that the future would be brighter. But these kind of steps reduce the animal suffering and push as closer to the future when lab animals are few and far between.


Source: University of Queensland

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