Education: An alternative to a dog's life: Campaigners are financing new ways of getting a scientific result

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NEW methods and technologies are emerging that offer researchers alternatives to experiments on animals in a growing number of fields. Many of the projects are funded by charities campaigning against animal experiments.

The Humane Research Trust is funding 11 medical research projects. At the University of East Anglia, techniques are being developed to provide human tissue for eye research. Sim Webb, the project leader, has found a method of producing large numbers of lens cells in the laboratory and has set up an eye bank to store the cells, with funding from Animal Aid. The researchers plan to produce lens cell lines that will be deep-frozen and offered to labs across the United Kingdom. A postgraduate course in human tissue technology, to turn out researchers skilled in the animal-free technique, is planned and the Humane Research Trust has pledged a number of fellowships for the course.

The trust is also funding projects investigating the use of human tissue for research into inflammatory and intestinal diseases, asthma, brain tumours and Alzheimer's disease.

Other projects include a computer-based toxicity testing system, for determining the effects of commercial substances on various organs, a process which traditionally uses animal tissues. The system, called Compact, has been devised at Surrey University, and is already replacing the use of animals in some tests.

Also funded by the trust is a technique developed by Sheffield University for mass-producing human antibodies, as an alternative to those produced by cultivating tumours in rodents.

The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Education is supporting research programmes at Nottingham, Surrey and Hertfordshire universities to develop a range of toxicity tests using human tissue. And a technique pioneered by Aberdeen University offers a way of using live human subjects for research on the structure and functioning of the human body. The non-invasive technique, which measures bodily responses to stimulation by a magnetic field, is used at Hammersmith Hospital's Royal Postgraduate Medical School to research the brain.

Ken Chollerton, chair of the Humane Research Trust, says: 'With the technology that exists now we have the potential for removing animals from experiments entirely; it is just a question of how long it will take.'

But Professor Nick Wright, director of clinical research at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, says that animal experiments are unavoidable in two areas. 'While there is scope for reduction and refinement in toxicity testing, a certain number of animal tests will still be necessary. And in drug development, animal experiments are going to continue to be very important and we are likely to see them for a long, long time.'

More than three million scientific procedures using animals took place in Britain in 1991. The vast majority - 84 per cent - used laboratory-bred rodents. About 1 per cent - 32,000 procedures - used large mammals, including 16,000 dogs and cats and 5,000 primates.