Aldert Piersma on animal-free research
Piersma studies the toxicity of chemicals for unborn babies, without the use of animals. “At RIVM, I work with a number of colleagues on the prevention of congenital anomalies that can arise from exposure to substances and medicines. Normally, many laboratory animals are used for this, so the search for animal-free methods is of great importance”, Piersma states. He continues to say that they also work with cultured human stem cells to examine the effect chemical substances can have on the development of an embryo. In the culture, these stem cells grow into muscle cells, nerve cells or bone cells etc.; the same way it happens in an embryo.
Harmful substances can harm these processes, which can then cause a birth defect. With our research, we can recognize a harmful effect at an early stage. Our hope is that in the long run, laboratory animals will no longer be needed in this research, through the development and implementation of non-animal tests in cell cultures. On the one hand, I am in favour of limiting the use of laboratory animals where possible. Inflicting unnecessary harm on an animal is unethical. Doing an animal experiment requires careful consideration every time. We must therefore reduce the still necessary use of laboratory animals and work on non-animal research models.
Laboratory animals are not people: the predictions from animal experiments are not perfect.
Fortunately, knowledge of biological processes - and how they can be disrupted by chemical substances - is constantly increasing. This knowledge, combined with technological developments, makes it increasingly possible to conduct more targeted research for humans without using laboratory animals. Piersma is happy to contribute to this evolution. He also appreciates a collaboration partner like Proefdiervrij, as he feels they have an eye for both the ethical and scientific challenges in this profession, and are constantly striving towards a right balance.
In 10 years’ time, Piersma believes the risk estimation of chemical substances will be based on human data more. Cell cultures with human cells will also be used more, and this data will be brought together in computer models to estimate risks to humans. Therefore, Piersma & co. are deliberately moving in that direction by working on better cell cultures and on computer models for biological processes and risk assessment.
Proefdiervrij is inspired by researchers like Piersma. For them, he proves that animal-free science is the future.