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Originally published August 13 2008

Animals Spared by Using Laboratory Robots to Test Chemicals

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Researchers are developing a method of testing potentially toxic chemicals using robots instead of animals, as a way of reducing both the number of animals exposed to painful or fatal tests and also the cost of those tests, according to an article published in the journal Science and a presentation made to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institute of Health have initiated a five-year research program to investigate the possibility of using automated robots to test the effects of chemicals on individual cells. The robots carry out genetic and biochemical tests using technology developed for the Human Genome Project.

"Ultimately, what you are looking for is, does this compound do damage to cells?" said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. "So could we, in fact, instead of looking at a whole animal as our first line of analysis, look at individual cells from different organisms of different animals with different concentrations of the compound?"

The robots should be able to perform 10,000 chemical tests in a single day, as opposed to the current rate of 10 to 100 animal studies per year.

More than 2,000 chemicals are currently being studied to see if they pose toxic threats to humans.

"Historically such toxicity has always been determined by injecting chemicals into laboratory animals, watching to see if the animals get sick, and then looking at their tissues under the microscope," Collins said. "Although that approach has given us valuable information, it is clearly quite expensive, it is time-consuming, it uses animals in large numbers and it doesn't always predict which chemicals will be harmful to humans."

The researchers aim to develop robotic testing techniques reliable enough that they would be accepted by regulatory agencies such as the EPA.

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