Infiltration: most allegations unfounded

30 November 2010

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Category: Policy Issues

how–mice.jpgUnderstanding Animal Research today (Tuesday 30 November) welcomed a report from the Home Office addressing claims by an animal rights group about animal research and testing at a UK facility in 2009. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) placed an infiltrator inside the contract research organisation Wickham Laboratories for eight months and subsequently produced a 50-page report alleging bad practice.

Most of the allegations made by BUAV were not substantiated by the Home Office investigation. One aspect was the testing of botulinum toxin on mice, which was the subject of media attention last year. BUAV alleged that the toxin Wickham Labs tested on mice and may subsequently have been used for cosmetic botox treatment. The testing of cosmetics on animals is illegal in the UK. The Home Office stated:

'There is no evidence that there has been testing of cosmetic products or ingredients. All testing of botulinum containing products undertaken at Wickham Laboratories is in support of medicinal products…'

Botulinum toxin is one of the most poisonous compounds in the world - hence the need to test its potency - but used at very low doses it has proved to be a very versatile medical treatment. There are now more than 100 medical uses of the toxin for cerebral palsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain associated with headaches, and bladder and bowel difficulties.

BUAV further claimed that there were validated non-animal alternatives to the LD50 test used for the batch testing of botulinum toxin and alternatives to the use of rabbits in pyrogenicity tests for all medicines. The Home Office stated that the development and validation of such alternatives 'has not yet been completed' and pyrogencity testing is required 'for specific medicinal products'.

The Home Office report also confirmed that the animal testing carried out by Wickham Labs is entirely legitimate:

'the licence authorities granted to individuals at Wickham laboratories under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 were legitimately requested and appropriately assessed'

Problems were identified at Wickham in only four out of 12 key Home Office findings. These related to:

  • Humane end points for mouse bioassay (killing the animals at an earlier pont to prevent unnecessary suffering)
  • At times, poor and inconsistent practice in killing mice
  • Potential conflicts of interest of the Named Veterinary Surgeon (the lab vet with responsibilities under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act)
  • Miscellaneous areas for improvement

As part of its programme of continuing review and improvement, Wickham Labs said that it had already addressed many of the issues in the report through improved practices. In other cases, further clarification of international test guidelines is needed.