Perhaps you’ve heard about the passionate protests opposing animal research (and the counter-protests supporting it). Whether you’re opposed to animal research altogether, want to minimize it to avoid it as much as possible, or just want to avoid the cost and hassle, in-silico research can help address your concerns.
Although simulation models are developed from animal (and human) tissues and tests on animals, it is now also possible to develop them without harm to either animals or people thanks to better non-invasive imaging techniques. Furthermore, only one animal is required to create a simulation model that can be used over and over again. The rabbit heart geometry information collected by Vetter and McCulloch in 1998, for example, has been used for hundreds of simulations within our lab alone, and has also been used in many other labs around the world. Only one rabbit was sacrificed for probably a thousand different experiments.
Generation of geometrical models (meshes, as opposed to cellular-level ionic models) using medical imaging techniques has other advantages. For example, models could be created from a given animal’s heart before, during, and after creation of an infarct, all from the same heart. If using excised hearts, a different heart would be required for each stage of infarction, and they could not be directly compared with each other in the same way that models from several stages in the exact same heart could be.
The FDA is interested in simulation data in support of device submissions. At a workshop this spring, numerous examples of simulation data in support of a wide variety of devices were presented. Two former members of the lab from which I graduated are currently employed at the FDA, and were at that meeting — there are people at the FDA who are very familiar with cardiac simulation. Simulations aren’t going to replace animal testing and clinical trials in FDA submissions any time soon. However, they can be used to reduce the number of animal trials you need to do, and can offer additional, cost-effective support of claims in device submissions.
How do you feel about animal testing? How much does it cost you in money and time?