Of course, animal testing is used much less than it used to be because we have developed new ways of conducting experiments to prove or disprove the efficacy of new drugs, for example. Now there is computer modelling, in vitro technology, micro-dosing (used on human subjects), and also human-patient simulators.
Human-patient simulators are essentially mannequins which have technologies in them which make them respond like a person. They are also made to resemble a person. They are used to provide medical students with hands-on experience with no possibility of the ‘patient’ dying because of a wrong diagnosis or the wrong treatment. This is not new, but has been carried out since the 1950s, although the simulators have been much improved since the early days.
In vitro literally means ‘in glass’, and cultures of cells and tissue can now be grown in a test tube or another glass vessel such as a petri dish. Biologists use these to grow bacteria, for example. Most people will have heard of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment which is used to aid human reproduction.
Micro dosing is used for human trials of new drugs. The doses administered to human patients (or guinea pigs), are very low, sub-therapeutic, in fact, that they don’t affect the whole body. However, the doses are high enough to allow scientists to study the responses of cells.
Computer modelling and brain imaging machines, and a whole host of other methods of studying the brain via a computer, are helping scientists to push forward our understanding of how our brains work. Computer modelling of the brain can, at least in theory, contribute to our advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AI). No one yet has come up with a sound understanding of how the brain actually works. If we can figure this out, scientists could, in theory work out how to prevent diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s Disease. That would be a real scientific and medical breakthrough which would change the lives of sufferers and their carers.