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Search for Animal Alternatives Faces Rough Road

NEW YORK—Revlon has decided to end its support of a major university research effort into in vitro alternatives to the use of animals in product testing and research. Its action is the latest obstacle to progress in a field hampered by inadequate funding and differing approaches to the problem. The Laboratory for In Vitro Toxicologic Assay Development at The Rockefeller University was created six years ago by Revlon after intense pressure by animal rights activists to find an alternative

By | December 15, 1986

NEW YORK—Revlon has decided to end its support of a major university research effort into in vitro alternatives to the use of animals in product testing and research. Its action is the latest obstacle to progress in a field hampered by inadequate funding and differing approaches to the problem.

The Laboratory for In Vitro Toxicologic Assay Development at The Rockefeller University was created six years ago by Revlon after intense pressure by animal rights activists to find an alternative to the Draize test. That test involves placing an experimental substance in the eye of a rabbit and watching for potential irritation. A few months later the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association, an industry trade group, founded the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health.

Revlon has spent nearly $1.5 million on research into alternatives to the Draize. In October 1985, however, the company was purchased by Pantry Pride, and this past year the newly formed Revlon Group, Inc., reduced its annual grant by 20 percent, to $200,000. Last month officials notified Director Dennis Stark that his program would receive no money in 1987.

“We're in trouble,” Stark said. He said that work at the lab will grind to a halt this spring without support from other sources.

Revlon plans to make a reduced contribution to the Johns Hopkins center, according to Earle Brauer, vice president for medical affairs at Revlon. “At the time we made our decision to set up the Rockefeller lab, we hoped other industries would join us in that commitment. Unfortunately, that has never happened.”

During the past five years the Johns Hopkins center has parceled out $2.4 million to more than 100 projects by researchers around the country. Its interests are much broader than those pursued by scientists at Rockefeller, extending beyond the Draize test to a variety of procedures involving animals. Little of the work is done in-house.

Brauer does not hide his unhappiness with the approach taken by the Hopkins center. “It may please a lot of little investigators, but it is too diminished,” he said. “As a research person, I can tell you that you don't get much for $20,000 [the average size of a grant].”

Alan Goldberg, director of the Johns Hopkins center, declined to respond to Brauer's criticism. The Cosmetics Association plays down any rivalry among member firms. “People are free to choose where they do their research,” said Richard Bednarz, vice president of re search for the Association.

The efforts at both labs pale in comparison with the more than $60 million spent during the past five years by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on in vitro tests. But budget cuts last year, to less than $8 million, have forced the institute to move more slowly on several projects. The situation is not expected to improve significantly in 1987, ac cording to Ray Tennant, chief of the Institute's cellular and genetic toxicology branch.

“It's a Catch-22,” said Tennant about research into alternatives. “To use fewer animals, we'll have to spend some time using more animals. There are some fundamental biological problems that will make this a much more protracted struggle than anyone has let on.”


There has been progress. Results from an unpublished validation test funded by the Soap and Detergent Association indicate that some of the in vitro tests are able to predict irritation for certain substances. The Environmental Protection Agency is using computer models and cell culture techniques to reduce the number of animals needed to predict the toxicity of certain cosmetics.

Animal rights groups continue to push for the elimination of all testing in live animals. Three such groups formed the International Foundation for Ethical Research, which is offering grants of up to $50,000 for research, and $20,000 for fellowships, on alternatives to animal testing. (Contact James Stewart, 1 State Street, Suite 1050, Boston, MA 02109.) But the field is far from crowded.

“I've spent the last six months writing applications to the EPA, FDA, NIH and other groups,” said Stark, who also directs the university's laboratory animal research center, “but there are no focused programs for this type of research. We have to justify the whole field every time we apply.”

Watkins is a staff writer for the Medical Tribune in New York.

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