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August 2, 2010

HSI Welcomes International Adoption of Animal-Free Skin Irritation Test

Humane Society International

  • EpiDerm™ human skin model © MatTek

After many years of scientific research and lobbying by animal protection advocates, a completely non-animal approach for skin irritation testing has finally been adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its 31 member countries.

Until now, skin irritation testing has been based on the 1940s-era “Draize test,” which involved locking rabbits into full-body restraints while a test substance is applied—without pain relief—to the shaved skin on their back for up to four hours. The degree of irritation is monitored over a two-week period, after which the animals are killed.

But now it is possible to fully replace animals with three-dimensional reconstructions of human skin using cells grown in culture. In addition to being cruelty-free, these cutting-edge human skin models are also more accurate and efficient than animal testing.

As OECD-invited experts, Humane Society International and its counterparts in the International Council for Animal Protection in OECD Programmes (ICAPO) provided scientific expertise that helped create the new guideline and ensure its acceptance.

The OECD produces safety-testing guidelines for its 31 member nations, which represent many of the world’s largest economies. Adoption of the non-animal method by OECD countries marks the beginning of the end of animal skin irritation testing worldwide.

The science of safety testing has come a long way since the 1940s. By embracing new testing methods based on 21st century science, OECD countries are making a vital statement that the goals of animal, human health, and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.