Researchers at Hurel Corporation have reached a major milestone in their quest to create a chip to replace skin allergy testing on animals. Working with cosmetics firm L’Oreal, Hurel has developed a working microfluidic portion of the chip. While there is still much work to be done before they have a whole chip ready for commercial use, the researchers say this is a major step toward eliminating allergy testing on animals.
“One important benefit in moving away from animal testing is the cost savings,” says Robert Freedman, Hurel’s chief executive officer. He said tests on small animals can run as high as $1,000 an animal. Ultimately, these chips should prove to be far less expensive. There’s also increasing political pressure to eliminate animal testing, particularly in Europe, where a complete ban on animal testing for cosmetics sold there will take full effect in 2013.
“There is, beyond that, the powerful ethical demand … that it just shouldn’t be done,” Freedman says, adding that using the device one time would save 25 animals’ lives. “If we’re smart enough to go to the moon, then we should be smart enough to test chemicals without hurting other creatures.”
The chip is intended to replace one kind of test, called a local lymph node assay, that is often done on new chemicals used in cosmetics. Today, the tests are generally performed on female mice. (Though some labs use an older method involving guinea pigs.)
Chad Sandusky, director of toxicology and research at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says it’s difficult to know exactly how many animals are used for skin allergy testing because rodents aren’t covered under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act and therefore no records need to be filed with the government regarding their use. But he estimates that at least 10,000 animals are used in America each year for such tests. “It’s a very commonly performed test,” he says.
When a living animal experiences a skin allergy, dendritic cells from the skin migrate via lymphatic fluid to the lymph node, where they launch an allergic response by stimulating T cells. Those conducting the tests look for outward allergic reactions, such as skin irritation.