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Development and acceptance of non-animal methods

To round-off 2020, Dr Judith Madden, who was appointed editor-in-chief of FRAME’s scientific, peer-reviewed journal, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA) earlier this year, provides an overview of the journal’s latest print edition (Volume 48, Issue 4).

Dr Judith Madden
Dr Judith Madden

In this article, Judith outlines examples of important research taking place across the world in the specialist field of alternatives.

Innovation in alternative methods (in vitro, in silico, etc.), investigation and challenge of the status quo in animal-based research, engagement of researchers (particularly early-career scientists) and dissemination of information, are all key contributors in driving forward the development and acceptance of alternative methods. In the latest print issue of Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), we present articles exemplifying contributions from each of these important areas.

When an organism is exposed to a xenobiotic, the effect that may be elicited depends, in part, on the distribution of the chemical. Ability to cross the blood–brain barrier (BBB) is of particular concern in drug development, both from the perspective of ensuring efficacy of those drugs that act upon the central nervous system and avoiding potential toxicity from those that do not. Many in vitro models of the BBB have been devised as surrogates for the in vivo system; however, there is no single ideal model. García-Salvador et al.1 describe an investigation into 20 different BBB models and the influence of coculture with astrocytes. The authors additionally report on the potential for using Lucifer Yellow as an indicator of BBB integrity in in vitro models.

The ability to elicit an effect is also dependent upon the intrinsic toxicity of a chemical (or transformation product thereof), and in vitro tests are increasingly used to assess potential toxicity. Herein, de Leeuw et al.2 report on the influence of nutrient concentration and exposure scenarios in determining toxicity when using the neural embryonic stem cell test, advising caution in interpreting and extrapolating results from individual in vitro assays.

Across the world this year, there have been significant changes to the modus operandi for many researchers. With access to laboratories restricted, or facilities being re-purposed, conducting research from home has become essential.

The FRAME Summer Studentships were not unaffected, with projects moving to analysis of available data, rather than laboratory-based exercises, for this year. Many high-quality proposals were received, and it is encouraging to see the engagement of early career scientists in investigating and challenging the use of animals in research. FRAME Scientific Liaison Officer, Amy Beale, outlines the projects put forward by the three successful applicants,3 and we look forward to learning from the findings of this research when the full reports are published.

Changing practice, to use alternatives where possible, requires those involved in research and decision-making to have sufficient knowledge of what the alternatives are, how they may be applied and any limitations to their use. In the interests of disseminating knowledge of alternatives, the latest issue of ATLA incorporates a review of in silico tools as alternatives to animal testing.4 This provides an overview of the underlying theories, applications, and resources available for in silico modelling, as well as considering barriers to acceptance and discussing what the future may hold. The review, aimed at students and researchers outside of the area, is the first in a series of planned reviews covering alternative approaches.

Finally, during the year, much discussion has been going on behind the scenes in terms of the evolution of ATLA. In the next issue, we will be pleased to introduce the new Associate Editors and Editorial Board for the journal, and we are looking forward to working with them on future editions.


  1. García-Salvador, A, Domínguez-Monedero, A, Gómez-Fernández, P, et al. Evaluation of the influence of astrocytes on in vitro blood–brain barrier models. Altern Lab Anim 2020; 48: 184–200.
  2. de Leeuw, VC, van Nieuwland, M, Bokkers, BGH, et al. The effects of folic acid and methionine supplementation and deprivation on methotrexate-induced developmental toxicity in the in vitro neural embryonic stem cell test. Altern Lab Anim 2020; 48: 173–183.
  3. Beale, A . An overview of the FRAME Summer Studentship 2020 award winners. Altern Lab Anim 2020; 48: 143–145.
  4. Madden, JC, Enoch, SJ, Paini, A, et al. A review of in silico tools as alternatives to animal testing: principles, resources and applications. Altern Lab Anim 2020; 48: 146–172.

This editorial was first published by Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA) – available here – and has been reproduced with changes incorporated with permission from the author.


ATLA is published six times a year by FRAME, in partnership with SAGE Publishing, with articles on the latest research relating to the development, validation, introduction and use of alternatives to laboratory animals and reports on the latest news and events. The journal also provides reviews on publications and products and provides additional insight into significant research papers in the field of alternatives.

To read more, visit the ATLA website. 

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