The FDA just struck a deal that could put an end to animal testing

A future without animal testing is getting closer.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration inked a collaborative research and development agreement with Emulate, a company that makes “organs-on-chips” technology.

The hope is that instead of testing new drugs or supplements on animals, researchers can use Emulate’s chips. Each chip is about the size of a human thumb, and contains tiny channels filled with living human cells that imitate the functions of different organs. For example, Emulate can build a chip that recreates how a human lung might react to certain medications. The results of tests that utilise these chips would ideally be more accurate than those conducted using a culture of lung cells or an animal’s lung.

Animal testing is a critical part of the drug development process. Before a drug makes it to the FDA, the company behind it has to show how the drug works in animals — specifically whether or not it’s toxic. Scientists run tests on different animals, and bring that data to the FDA in the form of an Investigational New Drug application. If the FDA signs off, the company can then start testing the drug in humans.

To start, the collaboration between the FDA and Emulate will focus on the company’s Liver-Chips, which are meant to show how an animal’s liver might react to a certain drug. The liver is where most drugs get broken down on their way out of the body.

Animal testing might not go away completely, but if the collaboration is successful it could at least reduce the number of animals used in pre-clinical research.

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