Human-based research will always be the most reliable when trying to find treatments and cures for human disease.
This does not mean conducting harmful and risky tests on humans instead of animals — we would never promote such methods!
Human-based research methods involve a broad range of biotechnologies that are human-relevant. They use advanced and current biological knowledge of the human species to study human diseases and develop drugs which are safe and effective in humans.
Contrary to common misconceptions, we know that:
- Using animals in the early stages of developing a treatment or cure results in research that is flawed from the very beginning.
- Many human diseases are also not found naturally in animals, so they are artificially induced. This creates a whole set of new problems as the disease being studied is slightly (or dramatically) different from that found in humans.
- Some researchers will also argue that they need to test on an entire living system. This is correct to a degree; it does need to be tested in a living system, but that system also needs to be of the same species. Using a battery of human-based tests would be more predictive of human outcomes, compared to using an entirely different species.
EXAMPLES OF HUMAN-BASED RESEARCH METHODS.
ORGANOIDS & ORGAN CHIPS
Organoids are 3D structures made up of stem cells that can mimic the functions, structure, and biological complexity of human organs.1
Organ chips are microfluidic devices that contain a network of interconnected reservoirs. These can also mimic the organ systems of a living being. Researchers can place lung, liver, fat, gastric or heart cells inside the reservoirs, add a test drug and quickly evaluate how the chemical is distributed, metabolised and excreted.2
For example, Harvard University’s Wyss Institute developed lung-on-a-chip, which can mimic the complicated mechanical and biochemical behaviours of a human lung.3
There are continuous developments with this technology. In fact, the organ-on-a-chip market has a projected annual growth rate of 36.54%, so it could reach over 1 billion NZD in global revenue by 2030.4
An additional benefit: It’s estimated that the use of organ-on-a-chip technology could result in a decrease of up to 26% in the cost of research and development for a new drug. This would also decrease the time it takes to develop a new drug.5
Learn more about organoids and organ chips here.
Watch the short video from Wyss Institute below for a quick intro to organs-on-chips:
Scanning technologies refer to a set of methods and devices used to capture and digitize information from physical objects or environments and convert it into digital data.
There is a wide range of scanning technologies that can reveal processes in living humans. MRI (magnet resonance imaging) is one you may have experienced yourself. The images produced from scanning technologies are now truly remarkable and are especially useful in neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's.6
It is now possible to detect minimal shifts in the chemical balance of brain regions through non-invasive magnet resonance spectroscopy(MRS).7
Microdosing involves giving a minuscule amount of a substance to a volunteer or patient. Researchers can use this method to do a variety of things, for example track the movement of the drug through the body and quantify the concentration of the test drug in blood, urine, saliva and white blood cells.8
This technique has already been used successfully to test drugs for cancer,8 antibiotics,9pain,10 and Alzheimer's disease.11
HUMAN-DERIVED RAW MATERIAL
Ethically sourced human organs and tissue can be used in experiments. These can obtained from a variety of sources - from donated human cadavers or from patients who have undergone operations or biopsies.12 These can be utilised in research in a variety of ways, for example, to increase knowledge about transplantation and therefore increase success rates.
Researchers can also use so called “rapid autopsy programs” to obtain important information on disease processes such as brain immunity,13 cancer growth,14 HIV progression15 and many more.16
ARTIFICIAL HUMAN TISSUES OR ORGAN SYSTEMS
Human tissues or organ systems can also be recreated in laboratories. For example, Human lymph nodes have been created in the laboratory to test vaccines and biologically based drugs.17
Artificial organs can be manufactured using cutting-edge techniques like 3D printing with patient-derived cells (known as bioprinting)18 or by cultivating human cells in a controlled environment to form working heart tissue and blood vessels. These technologies are already used to create organ-chips modelling heart disease,19 and they can eventually lead to growing “mini-organs” (providing a viable alternative to xenotransplantation).
Epidemiology involves the study of significant numbers of people over a period of years, comparing their lifestyles, genes, medical interventions, environments, social status, etc. It remains a powerful tool with huge potential and has already produced enormously valuable findings, including the link between smoking and lung cancer20,21 or diet and Type 2 diabetes.22
IT capacities have come a long way, with Artificial intelligence being used in many fields of research and development.
A recent promising approach to personalised medicine is the so called “digital twin”, already in use in many fields of technology through smart sensors. Using real data, virtual replicas of real human patients are created, through which clinicians can gain valuable insights, optimize treatment strategies, and deliver personalised care.23
Examples of these new applications include tumour control,24 brain physiology,25 a maternal and foetal digital twin system,26 heart arrhythmia prediction,27and many more.23
The University of Auckland advances this field of research in their Computational and Experimental Physiology Group.
Read more on the subject in the article by Humane Research Australia.
- See how these human-based methods are used in research relating to cancer, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer's disease here.
- Check out the overview of methods and technologies that can replace animals in biomedical research and testing written by Humane Research Australia.
Some of the many institute's advancing and developing human-relevant research and test methods:
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- The International Foundation for Ethical Research
- Animal Free Research UK
- The PETA Science Consortium International e.V.
- The Alternatives Research & Development Foundation
There are also many more institutes dedicated to developing, validating and implementing non-animal based methods.