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Animal Testing Without Animals

Dateline: 04/15/99

Two researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have developed an Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) device that uses electricity to study complex cell behavior. The device offers researchers a way of testing cell interactions through non-invasive means.

The ECIS device is an "electronic eavesdropper" on cells and can measure the activity of cells over time. Because it is connected via software to a computer, all data acquisition and analysis can be automated. Data about a cell's response can be taken as frequently as every quarter second.

The device works by electrically culturing live cells in a set of trays which sit in bays that are supplied with a low-level alternating current from an electrode. When electricity is present, cells will expand over the electrode, allowing changes to be measured.

This electrical sensor allows a new level of detail for the results. Instead of the traditional petri dish for cultures and examination by a microscope, the entire procedure is now automated.

Many people question the use of animals in research, particularly in nonessential testing. Others maintain that animal modeling is a necessary prerequisite for the discovery of new treatments. One target is the cosmetics industry. This device could markedly reduce or even eliminate the need to use live animals to test and measure the toxicity levels of chemicals.

The device is also cost effective. Data can be taken in real time essentially 24 hours a day with minimal human interaction. The device is manufactured by Applied BioPhysics and retails for approximately $40,000. Several large universities and biotechnology companies in Japan, Taiwan, and the United States are currently using the machine.

What do you think? Will this device allow companies to explore the feasibility of testing without animals? Or will companies stay with the status quo? Come over to the Biology Forum and share your thoughts, opinions, and feelings.

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