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Students Contemplate Alternatives to Animal Testing

Monday, 19 September 2016

GCSE and A level students and their parents enjoyed an enlightening evening lecture entitled “Alternatives to Animal Testing” by Dr Laura Waters from the University of Huddersfield. The first in a series of Science and Arts enrichment lectures, this lively presentation encouraged audience involvement in what proved a thought-provoking subject.

Dr Waters made clear she was not critical of animal testing that had taken place in the past and admitted that such testing had allowed for the advancement of science and for some wonderful medicines to be created. She told how, in 2013, the EU introduced a law stipulating that no new ingredients could be tested on animals for the development of cosmetics. This ruling has caused complications for companies as it does not apply to all countries worldwide; in Australia and China, for instance, animal testing is mandatory in the production of cosmetics.  

However, animal testing is not just allowed in the pharmaceutical industry, it is mandatory. Dr Waters explained that a drug is the active ingredient, which must be tested on animals and a medicine is the tablet or patch you buy in the shop. After quizzing the audience, Dr Waters explained the different ways that new medicines come about including modifying existing drugs and by visiting remote tribes and studying the plants they chew or medicines they use. She also explained how some drugs end up being used for something they were not originally intended for – Viagra being a case in point. She said that big companies such as AstraZeneca or Glaxo contract out the animal testing to special centres and such testing will only take place on drugs that show real promise.

Dr Waters then posed the question as to whether we still need animal testing to make our drugs safe? She explained that animals do not, for the most part, react to drugs in the same way that humans do. She cited the case of the drug TGN1412 which saw six men end up in intensive care, some nearly died and all were left with a lifetime of complications; earlier stronger dosages of the drug had tested safely on animals. She also recalled the recent BIA 10-2474 drug trial which had left a man dead and of all the problems associated with Thalidomide, although it is now used to treat leprosy.

Concluding, Dr Waters said most people are against animal testing for cosmetics but it becomes a grey area when you consider whether you would allow testing in order to save a family member from a heart attack. Likewise, it becomes debateable whether testing on animals should be allowed if it helps create anti-depressants, which might save someone from committing suicide. She asked the audience whether they would be comfortable taking a drug which had not been tested on animals? Addressing the 3 Rs of animal testing – reduction, refinement and replacement, she did say that we are slowly getting there – we probably could not ban all testing tomorrow but gradually through techniques such as micro-dosing (which has a 70% success rate) and computer simulations we can look to reduce the amount of animal testing that takes place.

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Dr Waters with students ahead of her fascinating insight into animal testing

Dr Waters with students ahead of her fascinating insight into animal testing

In an interactive presentation, the audience was asked to think about their own views on whether animal testing is ever permissable

In an interactive presentation, the audience was asked to think about their own views on whether animal testing is ever permissable