Encouraging more human-based research

Photo: Katja Wolthers and Lola, a 3-year-old dog rescued from a laboratory testing on animals.

As of late December 2022, animal testing is no longer a necessary step in drug testing. Despite this progress, stepping away from a years-long mandate towards animal-free innovation is still challenging for many. As an initiative to minimize unnecessary testing on animals, Stichting Proefdiervrij (the Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing) launched an awareness campaign titled ‘Animal testing is out of date’. 

Investing in more animal-free innovations 

Trust, financial support and implementation of animal-free innovations are required to shift towards a future without laboratory animals. Proefdiervrij’s new campaign, supported by many animal-friendly researchers including GUTVIBRATIONS coordinator Katja Wolthers, urges the Dutch government to invest more in animal-friendly innovations. Proefdiervrij believes that only then, when the government shows support, will change occur. 

As it stands, approximately 450,000 animal tests are carried out each year in the Netherlands alone. Although this is a large number, nine out of ten drugs tested on animals do not work in humans. This does not come as a surprise as the physiology of an animal is not comparable to that of a human.  

In their press release, Proefdiervrij highlights the availability of human-centred models that can replace laboratory animals and provide far more accurate results. ‘Human-centered models’ refers to models derived from human cells, for instance, human organoids and organ-on-chip. “Human materials, such as human organoids, are able to provide more accurate information as they are made with human cells. These models have the same properties similar to our intestines or lungs, which makes animal testing unnecessary” said Katja during an interview for the campaign.  

Brain organoid by Josse Depla

Katja finds Proefdiervrij’s campaign important as it shines a light on the many possibilities offered by animal-free research. “I believe that we have not fully utilised the opportunities provided by animal-free innovations because a lot of financial support is required to implement these techniques” Katja said, then added: “To me, Proefdiervrij’s campaign is not just about rescuing laboratory animals like Lola – it is about getting people to realize the many wonderful possibilities that we can explore if the government is also supporting us.”  

An animal-friendly innovation 

As a researcher with a compassion for animals, Katja coordinates the GUTVIBRATIONS consortium. The GUTVIBRATIONS project is an example of what can be achieved if animal-friendly researchers receive governmental support. Funded by the European Union (EU), GUTVIBRATIONS is building the gut-brain axis organ-on-chip that will propel human-oriented research. 

By using human organoids as one of the building blocks of a gut-brain axis organ-on-chip, GUTVIBRATIONS is developing an animal-friendly technology that will mimic human organs and organ systems. With the financial support provided by the EU, GUTVIBRATIONS will fast-track the process of drug development while saving both human and animal lives.