This computer program could make animal testing obsolete


Thanks to artificial intelligence, it is now possible to map previously unknown relationships between molecular structure and chemical toxicity.

A new computer system has been developed in the United States that predicts the toxicity of chemicals more accurately than animal tests. This is a revolutionary development that could potentially reduce the need for tests that are viewed as highly unethical by many, while being expensive, time consuming and often inaccurate. As I wrote earlier this year,

“It is estimated that 500,000 mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits are used each year for cosmetic testing. Tests include assessment for irritation, by rubbing chemicals into the eyes and skin of animals; cause cancer or other diseases; and lethal dose tests, which determine how much of a substance is needed to kill an animal. ”

The computer system offers an alternative approach. Called Read-Across-based Structure Activity Relationship, or “Rasar” for short, it uses artificial intelligence to analyze a chemical safety database that contains the results of 800,000 tests on 10,000 different chemicals.

The Financial Times reported,

“The computer has mapped previously unknown relationships between molecular structure and specific types of toxicity, such as the effect on the eyes, skin or DNA.”

Rasar achieved 87 percent accuracy in predicting chemical toxicity, compared to 81 percent in animal tests. The results were published in the journal Toxicological sciences, while its lead designer Thomas Hartung, professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, presented the results at the EuroScience Open Forum in France last week.

Companies that produce chemical compounds could potentially gain access to Rasar, which will be made available to the public. When formulating something like a new pesticide, the manufacturer could extract information about various chemicals without having to test them individually. Duplicate testing is a real problem in the industry, Hartung said:

“A new pesticide, for example, might require 30 separate animal experiments, costing the sponsoring company around $ 20 million. eyes to check if it is irritating. ”

Some concerns have been expressed that criminals could access the database and use the information to make their own toxic compounds, but Hartung believes there are more direct ways to get this information than to sail on Rasar. And the benefits to the chemical industry (and laboratory animals) arguably outweigh the risks.

Rasar is like the Human Toxicology Project Consortium, which I mentioned after attending the Lush Prize in London last fall. The HTPC is also working to create a database of chemical information, based on the results of toxicity and exposure tests and predictive computer programs. This approach is called Pathway-Based Toxicology, and its goal is to make animal testing obsolete while providing better predictions of the reactions of chemicals in the human body.


Gordon K. Morehouse