Traditionally, many new drugs, vaccines, cosmetics, and other products are often tested on animal models to determine their efficacy and safety before further studies or release onto the market. For example, a new drug may undergo safety testing to screen for any toxic metabolites by administering a range of doses to animals. A drug that is found to be metabolized into toxic by-products during animal testing may be scrapped before proceeding to human trials.
There is no doubt that animal testing has been beneficial to scientific research; many medical discoveries, including modern organ transplant techniques as well as assorted vaccines and antibiotics, have all involved animal testing in some form. However, in recent years, there has been an increasing outcry over the ethical concerns involved. Often, animals are bred specifically for use in laboratory tests, and are euthanized after an experiment has concluded. Many tests also entail procedures that can cause major pain and suffering, leading animal rights organizations to call for an end to animal testing.
Furthermore, a key assumption undertaken in animal tests is that animal models will respond in a manner similar to humans, thereby providing predictive screening results. However, certain tests that concern a drug’s metabolism and excretion often involve metabolizing enzymes that differ greatly between species. As a result, animal-based models sometimes to not provide sufficiently robust results due to differences in physiology between humans and animal models.
One major benefit of bioprinting is its potential to help reduce reliance on animal testing, as it is uniquely poised to address these concerns. By incorporating viable human cells into complex 3D architectures, bioprinting can create functional human tissues that can be used for research. These 3D tissues provide better mimicry of actual living human tissues compared to conventional 2D cultures or animal models, and thus more predictive results. In conjunction with other technologies, such as organ-on-a-chip devices, bioprinting is being leveraged to create increasingly robust in vitro models, with the goal of one day perhaps superseding animal testing entirely.
To learn more about bioprinting, check out our online course