RSC welcomes non-animal test that could spare one million mice worldwide

05 November 2012

The Royal Society of Chemistry today welcomed the implementation of newly-developed non-animal methods of testing for poisons in shellfish from the seas around Britain which has led to 14,000 mice being spared testing and death in 2012.

If the techniques were to be adopted worldwide it could  save a million mice from tests.
Professor Jim Iley, science director of the RSC, said today: "The development of in vitro methods that replace animal testing is a goal of toxicological science.

"It is wonderful news that a team of dedicated Government chemists have refined and implemented techniques for protecting humans from shellfish poisoning that means mice no longer have to be used. 

"This is a great example of chemical ingenuity being deployed for the benefit of the wider ecosystem."
The work, achieved by a team at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), has allowed the staff to dispense with using thousands of mice.
Now Cefas is looking at opportunities around the world for these Liquid Chromatography (LC) and mass spectrometry (MS) methods to be applied to reduce numbers of animals being used to assess toxicity in the laboratory or bred and maintained in laboratory facilities for the purpose of such tests. 

This advance will benefit not only animals, but food safety authorities, shellfish producers and consumers.
Dr Andrew Turner, principal chemist in the Food Safety group at Cefas, said: "In 2006, shellfish monitoring programmes undertaken to comply with EU food safety legislation were subject to controversy due to biological tests being the only methods authorised by the European Commission for the detection of the two most prevalent toxin groups in the UK, paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and lipophilic toxins (including toxins responsible for diarrhetic shellfish poisoning (DSP)).
"There was pressure from animal rights groups objecting to the use of animal testing for food analysis, from the shellfish and food industries and from the licensing authorities, who wanted Cefas and the Food Standards Agency to reduce such testing.
"FSA research funding enabled a series of programmes to be conducted at Cefas to test, refine and ultimately implement new non-animal testing methods for the official control testing of live bivalve molluscs."
The non-animal tests began in 2006 with the validation of a qualitative screening method using LC for the determination of PSP in several major species of shellfish.
Dr Turner added: "Lengthy and detailed development was required to make the method robust, reproducible and applicable to the high throughput requirements of the UK monitoring programme (typically 30-40 samples per day, with results to be reported within one working day).
"With full implementation of this method for mussels in April 2008, Cefas became the first laboratory in the world to use this method routinely for official control testing." 
This was followed up over the next two years with further research and validation resulting in the implementation of the method for the remaining species of interest within the UK by 2011. 
At the same time related research focused on the need to improve the LC method for the determination of PSP in scallops. Results from a Cefas-funded project, involving other expert international toxin-testing laboratories, showed that the official mouse-based test, when applied to oysters, was underestimating shellfish toxicity by up to a factor of three. 
Other work has focused on the development of LC with mass spectrometric detection (LC-MS/MS) methods for the determination of lipophilic toxins in shellfish. Several methods were tested and validated at Cefas, resulting in the implementation of one such method during 2011 for the eight major species of interest to the UK shellfish industry. 
The body of evidence generated throughout these studies has been published and disseminated widely, placing Cefas at the forefront of toxin analysis and significantly enhancing the organisation's international reputation. 
Overall, Cefas research and validation studies using analytical chemistry has resulted in the replacement of the mouse test for 100% of shellfish samples in the UK. 
"Our entire team feels that it has achieved something very worthwhile by developing and implementing these non-animal, chemical testing methods. We are delighted to be able to say that the mice have been spared. But we have also opened the way to a more effective way of ensuring that people do not suffer illness, or even death, through the toxins that threaten shellfish that might get through to market. 
"We estimate that if the methods we use are adopted worldwide over one million mice will be spared from death, which is something I am sure would be welcomed by all progressive scientists and most consumers everywhere."

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UK Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science

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