Alternatives to animal testing - EURL ECVAM
Testing consumer products for potentially harmful side effects of chemical ingredients is important for the protection of both the consumer and those involved in the manufacturing process.
Laboratory animals have been widely used in the past for testing but for many years the European Union has promoted the development of alternative techniques to eliminate or minimise the use of animals.
This is an increasingly important issue as European legislation gradually introduced a ban - being fully in force since 11 March 2013 - on the marketing of cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals. Legislation such as the is also encouraging the use of alternative methods and the avoidance of duplicating tests. This has created incentives for the development of alternative approaches that are at least as good as animal tests and potentially more cost effective.
The Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP) is host to EURL , formally established in 2011. EURL ECVAM's key responsibilities are to guide development of alternative methods, conduct validation studies, facilitate regulatory acceptance and to promote the use of alternative methods by end-users.
EURL ECVAM has inherited the specific competence of the former European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), hosted by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, which coordinated the validation of alternative approaches to animal testing in the European Union since 1991.
EURL ECVAM is actively involved in the search for test methods which replace, reduce or refine (the 'Three Rs') the use of laboratory animals in the test process. Methods developed by research laboratories are submitted to EURL ECVAM whose assessment of the robustness, reliability and predictive capacity of the methods is based on independent peer review of validation study reports. Concerning the latter, EURL ECVAM’s work is supported by the EURL ECVAMESAC. The Institute also engages with regulators and national testing laboratories early in the process to ensure the relevance and suitability of the submitted alternative methods.
EURL ECVAM supports the post-validation regulatory acceptance process both at European Union level and also with international organisations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and ICH (International Conference on Harmonisation).
Many years of dedicated work within the former ECVAM on the development and validation of methods to detect skin and eye irritants through in vitro methods have recently led to the adoption of an OECD test guidelines for identifying corrosive and severe eye irritants. This was the final step in the regulatory acceptance process at international level.
There is also good progress towards the adoption of a test guideline for the replacement of the use of living animals to identify skin irritants by way of in vitro methods using a three dimensional human tissue model of the skin.
More and better test methods
To improve understanding of the potential toxic effects of chemicals, the Institute uses a multi-disciplinary approach which integrates in vitro methods with computational based methodologies (in silico) together with 'omics' approaches.
EURL ECVAM focuses on an improved understanding of the way chemicals impact biological systems. This contributes to the development of methods and/or testing strategies that will reduce reliance on studies on living animals (in vivo), even for complex biological effects such as carcinogenicity.
The Institute is also developing automated testing approaches both to reduce the time it takes to carry out the toxicological assessments of chemicals and to make the testing more systematic and reliable.
Joint initiative on alternative approaches to animal testing
A joint initiative from the European Commission, European trade associations from seven industry sectors and individual companies in 2005 led to the creation of the. Its purpose is to promote the development and implementation of new methods to replace, reduce, refine (the '3 Rs') animal testing with modern alternative approaches.