The animal testing debate & how the 3-D printer may render it moot


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Animal testing counts as one of those hot-button issues that is an especially emotional one for those who consider themselves animal advocates. It’s a difficult subject for me as well, because while I do not condone threatening violence to those who conduct animal experiments, I don’t want to see animals suffer, particularly if it’s to determine whether my skin will react adversely to a bar of soap.

In my ideal universe, there would be no animal testing, but change doesn’t happen overnight and there are compelling arguments for animal testing as it pertains to potentially life-saving drugs or procedures.

Taking my bias into consideration, therefore, it would be nice to see a compromise — that is, an honest look at what we are testing for and why, whether it's something that can potentially save lives or improve quality of life for humanity and the manner in which are we going about conducting these tests.

Bottom line: Are we testing on animals to work out the perfect formula for the next shampoo that will hit store shelves soon? Or are we testing on animals to see how they react to cancer-fighting drugs?



In an article for the Guardian, Ben Goldacre stated, “Animal experiments are necessary, they need to be properly regulated, and we have some of the tightest regulation in the world.” Pretty cut and dry, and not surprising coming from a scientist.

Before all those against tune him out completely — and I’m glad I didn’t — he adds “But it's easy to assess whether animals are treated well or to assess whether an experiment was necessary.” If we want to see a move away from animal testing altogether, we have to be realistic, and we have to start somewhere, and this seems to be the logical place: lobbying for regulations that ensure animals are treated well, demanding that we define — difficult though that may be — what constitutes a necessary experiment. 

Despite his bold statement in support of animal testing, Goldacre is not against asking questions and demanding accountability. One would expect no less from the guy who calls out Bad Science: “Is the research well conducted, and are the results properly communicated? If it's not, then animals have suffered — whatever you believe that might mean for an animal — partly in vain.”


Many people who are against animal testing are against it across the board. Some, however, are against animal testing for cosmetics. Cruelty Free International is one such organization. The nonprofit launched a global campaign calling for governments and regulators to introduce a ban on animal testing for shampoo, lipstick, perfume and so on. One of the organization’s ambassadors is comedian Ricky Gervais, who appeared in this image pointing out how unnecessary it is to torture an animal for the sake of a beauty product.

The game changer

Last week, BBC News published an article about testing vaccines on 3-D-printed organs. That’s right — the 3-D printer that made headlines for printing a dress for Dita Von Teese can also print organs that may potentially render the debate over animal testing moot.

According to the article, “bioprinting, a form of 3-D printing [that], in effect, creates human tissue, is not new. Nor is the idea of culturing 3-D human tissue on a microchip. But the tests being carried out at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina are the first to combine several organs on the same device, which then model the human response to chemical toxins or biologic agents.”

Printing out organs to test out vaccines, potentially life-saving drugs and even that new perfume that Brand XYZ wants to get on shelves and in your homes could be quite the game changer. It would mean freedom for many animals — from the apes to the rodents to the canines to the reptiles — that have never seen the light of day and have lived their entire lives in a cage.

Thanks to technological advances like the 3-D printer and the way in which it can be and is being utilized by researchers, we may eventually see an end to animal testing. Science: It works … you know how that ends. And to a big old softie like me, the idea of animals retiring to protected sanctuaries — such as these chimps that are filmed as they go outside for the first time in 30 years after knowing nothing but the labs in which they were kept — warms my heart.