Research methods that do not involve the use of nonhuman animals

Research methods that do not involve the use of nonhuman animals

There are a variety of methods of experimentation which do not require the use of animals. There are currently a number of databases of such methods for a wide array of purposes. This includes education and cosmetics testing, but also basic scientific and biomedical research. Some of them use mathematical and computer models. These in silico techniques (computer-based methods such as computer simulations) can be used to predict the biological activity of substances and can be used in biochemical, physiological, toxicological, and behavioral studies.

Other methods that do not use animals include in vitro, which can be used to study interactions at a very small scale. It can be used at a subcellular level, or at the level of creating entire organs to study.

There are also methods that use brain scanning instead of experiments on primates, or use human tissue for examination.

Changing the current animal research paradigm and implementing these methods would be a great advance to eliminate much animal suffering and death. However, there are many barriers and obstacles that may prevent these methods from becoming the norm.

Defenders of animal experimentation commonly claim that these obstacles are what make this practice unavoidable and so advocate that it continue indefinitely, thus discouraging any agenda to make possible it may come to an end one day.1 The truth is, though, that very little effort and few resources are spent in the development of methods that do not use nonhuman animals. If more work were done on this, scientific obstacles to new methods of research could be overcome.

Funding can be a further problem in advancing the use of research methods not using animals. The research in this area is often carried out in the interest of creating techniques that are considered advanced, instead of as a way of ending the use of animals in scientific studies. It’s a common way of thinking that it is a waste of time and resources to invest in methods not using nonhuman animals because those efforts could be invested in doing actual research with animals that might bring about results directly. As this speciesist attitude continues, animal experimentation goes on and on without there being much motivation to change it. The reason for making such a choice is simply that nonhuman animals are not seen as mattering in any significant way compared to humans. Otherwise, the harm they suffer because they are used in laboratories would be considered as significant as the harms the experiments are supposed to alleviate or the benefits they are supposed to bring about.

In fact, an important part of the funding of research to develop methods without animals comes from people concerned with animals who want to see the end of the use of animals in laboratories. Examples of this are FRAME, the Lord Dowding Fund, the Dr Hawden Trust and the Humane Research Trust. Recently, other bodies such as the MRC, the BBSRC and NC3Rs have also offered some funding for research with the goal of developing research methods that do not use nonhuman animals, though the burden of this effort has traditionally been on groups that defend animals.

There are additional obstacles to the development and implementation of animal-free research methods. Problems may also be caused by legislation and policies driven by an attitude of unwillingness to question this paradigm. In the field of cosmetics experimentation this occurs in a very clear way. The EU and India have forbidden this practice, yet it is compulsory in other places, even though the bans that do exist show that cosmetics experimentation on animals is not necessary.2

Something similar is seen with biomedical research. Regulatory bodies dealing with it may simply not be willing to change. This is exemplified by the difficult requirements for introducing new methods to replace animal testing. They are much harder to meet than requirements for procedures that use nonhuman animals. These bodies claim the additional regulations are due to concerns with safety or liability of new methods, but these concerns appear especially when the methods do not involve nonhuman animals. International bodies must also be convinced that the new methods are acceptable. For these reasons it can be difficult to get regulatory bodies to implement change.3

Despite this, a number of methods without using animals have been developed for research, testing, and education.4 There are so many that they cannot all be listed here. But below are a number of databases in which these methods can be found.

Databases of research methods that do not use animals

ALTBIB: Alternatives to Animal Testing

EURL ECVAM dataset on alternative methods to animal experimentation (DB-ALM)


Information about methods without using animals in education

International Network for Humane Education (InterNICHE)

Further readings

Akbarsha, M. A.; Pereira, S. & Gruber, F. P. (2010) “A National Center for Animal Alternatives in India: The Mahatma Gandhi-Doerenkamp Center for Alternatives to the Use of Animals in Life Science Education (MGDC)”, ALTEX, 27, sp. iss., pp. 53-58 [accessed on 31 March 2023].

Balcombe, J. P.  (2001) “Dissection: The scientific case for alternatives”, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 4, pp. 118-126.

Basketter, D. A.; Clewell, H.; Kimber, I.; Rossi, A.; Blaauboer, B.; Burrier, R.; Daneshian, M.; Eskes, C.; Goldberg, A.; Hasiwa, N.; Hoffmann, S.; Jaworska, J.; Knudsen, T. B.; Landsiedel, R.; Leist, M.; Locke, P.; Maxwell, G.; McKim, J.; McVey, E. A.; Ouédraogo, G.; Patlewicz, G.; Pelkonen, O.; Roggen, E.; Rovida, C.; Ruhdel, I.; Schwarz, M.; Schepky, A.; Schoeters, G.; Skinner, N.; Trentz, K.; Turner, M.; Vanparys, P.; Yager, J.; Zurlo, J. & Hartung T. (2012) “A roadmap for the development of alternative (non-animal) methods for systemic toxicity testing”, ALTEX – Alternatives to Animal Experimentation, 29, pp. 3-91 [accessed on 18 October 2020].

Balls, M. (1994) “Replacement of animal procedures: Alternatives in research, education and testing”, Laboratory Animals, 28, pp. 193-211

Bauer, M. S. & Seim, H. B., III (1992) “Alternative methods to teach veterinary surgery”, Humane Innovations and Alternatives, 6, pp. 401-404.

Carlson, P. (1995) Alternatives in medical education: Nonanimal methods, Washington, D. C.: Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Cross, T. R. (2004) “Scalpel or mouse: A statistical comparison of real and virtual frog dissections”, The American Biology Teacher, 66, pp. 408-411.

Doke, S. K. & Dhawale, S. C. (2013) “Alternatives to animal testing: A review”, Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal, 18 November [accessed on 14 May 2014].

Garthoff, B. (2005) “Alternatives to animal experimentation: The regulatory background”, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology207, pp. 388-392.

Hendriksen, C. F. (2009) “Replacement, reduction and refinement alternatives to animal use in vaccine potency measurement”, Expert Review of Vaccines, 8, pp. 313-322.

Knight, A.; Bailey, J. & Balcombe, J. (2006) “Animal carcinogenicity studies: Alternatives to the bioassay”, ATLA: Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 34, p. 39.

Knudsen, L. E. (2013) “Animal-free toxicology: The use of human tissue to replace the use of animals-examples from human biomonitoring and human placental transport studies”, ATLA: Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 41, pp. 443-447.

Langley, G. (ed.) (1990) Animal experimentation: The consensus changes, London: MacMillan.

Ranganatha, N. & Kuppast, I. J. (2012) “A review on alternatives to animal testing methods in drug development”, International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science, 4, pp. 28-32.

Salem, H. (1995) Animal test alternatives: Refinement, reduction, replacement, New York: M. Dekker.

de Silva, O.; Basketter, D. A.; Barratt, M. D.; Corsini, E.; Cronin, M. T.; Das, P. K. & Ponec, M. (1996) “Alternative methods for skin sensitization testing”, ATLA: Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 24, pp. 683-706.

UPF Centre for Animal Ethics (2018) UPF-CAE recommendations: Sources on alternative methods to replace vivisections, Barcelona: Universidad Pompeu Fabra [accessed on 28 April 2020].

Zuang, V. & Hartung, T. (2005) “Making validated alternatives available —the strategies and work of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM)”, Alternatives to Animal Testing and Experimentation, 11, pp. 15-26 [accessed on 29 April 2020].


1 This argument has been used for a very long time by those arguing for speciesism in order to justify animal experimentation. See for instance: Paton, W. (1984) Man and mouse, Oxford: Oxford University Press; Cohen, C. (1986) “The case for the use of animals in biomedical research”, New England Journal of Medicine, 315, pp. 865-870. In addition, is commonly used in the literature aimed at convincing the public that research methods that do not use nonhuman animals are not valid. See for instance: American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (2003) The use of animals in biomedical research: Improving human and animal health, Memphis: American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. See also: Yarri, D. (2005) The ethics of animal experimentation: A critical analysis and constructive Christian proposal, Oxford: Oxford University Press; Baird, R. M. & Rosenbaum, S. E. (eds.) (1991) Animal experimentation: The moral issues, New York: Prometheus.

2 European Commission (2011) Questions impact assessment; 2013 Implementation Date Marketing Ban Cosmetics Directive. Annex 2, Brussels: Europan Commision.

3 Lilienblum, W.; Dekant, W.; Foth, H.; Gebel, T.; Hengstler, J. G.; Kahl, R.; Kramer, P. J.; Schweinfurth, H. & Wollin, K. M. (2008) “Alternative methods to safety studies in experimental animals: Role in the risk assessment of chemicals under the new European Chemicals Legislation (REACH)”, Archives of Toxicology, 82, pp. 211-236. Rice, M. J. (2011) “The institutional review board is an impediment to human research: The result is more animal-based research”, Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 6, p. 12. Scholz, S.; Sela, E.; Blaha, L.; Braunbeck, T.; Galay-Burgos, M.; García-Franco, M.; Guinea, J.; Klüver, N.; Schirmer, K.; Tanneberger, K.; Tobor-Kaplon, M.; Witters, H.; Belanger, S.; Benfenati, E.; Creton, S.; Cronin, M. T. D.; Eggen, R. I. L.; Embry, M.; Ekman, D.; Gourmelon, A.; Halder, M. & Hardy, B. (2013) “A European perspective on alternatives to animal testing for environmental hazard identification and risk assessment”, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 67, pp. 506-530; Judson, R.; Kavlock, R.; Martin, M.; Reif, D.; Houck, K.; Knudsen, T.; Richard, A.; Tice, R. R.; Whelan, M.; Xia, M.; Huang, R.; Austin, C.; Daston, G.; Hartung, T.; Fowle, J. R., III; Wooge, W.; Tong, W. & Dix, D. (2013) “Perspectives on validation of high-throughput assays supporting 21st century toxicity testing”, ALTEX – Alternatives to Animal Experimentation, 30, pp. 51-66 [accessed on 11 January 2021].

4 There are even scientific journal totally focused on this such as ATLA: Alternatives to Laboratory Animals or ALTEX – Alternatives to Animal Experimentation.