Genetically engineered animal tissue could spare millions of animals from the cruelty of experimentation. Image via likecool
We green types are sensitive to animal suffering. We can’t stand it when we read that animals are going extinct (like tuna). We get excited to see videos about animal behavior (read about Isabella Rossellini’s new Green Porn series), and we certainly cringe over the fact of life that animals have to die in medical research. But there is another way, finds a Tel Aviv University researcher who has developed a novel way to genetically engineer tissue from animals. The effect is that up to 95% of the animals used in research may be spared, or never bred in the first place. Huge amounts of resources could be spared as well.
While it’s illegal for health products with medical formulations to be accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration without tests on animals — a situation that has serious ethical and moral implications. Prof. Amit Gefen of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Engineering holds a promise that far fewer lab animals will be needed for the necessary experimental trials.
Dr. Gefen’s research into fat cells, published in a recent issue of Tissue Engineering, has led him to conclude that the necessary tissue can be produced from fat, skin, bone and muscle cells. His breakthrough study could have hundreds of applications in the pharmaceutical and medical world.
“Drugs make our lives better, and basic science is needed to push new drugs through clinical trials. But there is no doubt that an untold number of animals are sacrificed in the laboratory setting — both in basic research and in applied conditions when testing particular molecules,” says Prof. Gefen.
Bridging the worlds of biology and engineering, Prof. Gefen is now using adult rat stem cells — cells that can be stimulated to create skin, bone, fat and muscle tissue from an animal in a laboratory setting. In his own work on studying the mechanical properties of pressure ulcers, many tissue replications were needed. His new approach no longer requires the sacrifice of large numbers of animals. When an experiment is over, not one animal life has been lost.
The use of engineered tissues, says Prof. Gefen, may also be more scientifically efficient than using those from a living source. “The model we’ve created offers a very reliable method for researchers asking questions about basic science, and those investigating new drugs. We can injure tissue in a very controlled environment and grow muscle tissue without blood vessels, thereby neutralizing certain variables that often cloud what’s happening in an experiment.”