What Research and Testing Methods Should Be Used Instead of the Forced Swim Test?

A list of human-relevant research methods that can be used instead of the cruel and archaic Forced Swim Test.
August 1, 2019

Research into human depression can be done using humans or human-based methods.

Relevant methods for identifying potential human antidepressants include human platforms such as:

  • Mathematical or computer modelling of human systems. IBM Watson for Drug Discovery in the US analyses millions of documents and synthesises multiple sources of information to show connections and relationships among genes, drugs and diseases.
  • Drug-repurposing programmes, such as Vanderbilt University’s Accelerating Drug Discovery & Repurposing Incubator, which is based on human genetics.
  • Epidemiology, the study of naturally occurring disease and health in human populations.
  • In vitro research which involves procedures in a controlled environment outside of a living organism. For example, using cell-based tests and tissue models to assess the safety of drugs and chemicals.

Real-life examples of human psychological research using non-animal-based methods:

  • Researchers in China and elsewhere are using induced pluripotent stem cells to establish cell lines that can be used for research into neuronal disorders. Read more about this here.
  • Electronic medical records and wearable devices allow the collection of real-time data from human patients. This can utilise machine learning to generate individualised plans for patients undergoing treatment. Read more about this here.
  • A research group at the D’Or Institute for Research and Education in Brazil is using a human cerebral organoid model specifically to study human depression and the effects of psychoactive substances. Read more here.
  • At the University of California in San Francisco, researchers continuously recorded brain activity in human volunteers and were able to link changes in mood to specific patterns of brain activity. The study authors say, “The findings have scientific implications for our understanding of how specific brain regions contribute to mood disorders, but also practical implications for identifying biomarkers that could be used for new technology designed to treat these disorders.” Read more here.

It is important to note that the Forced Swim Test simply doesn’t work, therefore continuing to use it is senseless. If a test doesn’t work, it should be abandoned immediately, and efforts should go into finding a viable research method that will create real results.

If time and resources weren’t being wasted on fruitless research methods, such as the Forced Swim Test, then non-animal methods would be even more advanced than they currently are and more scientists would be utilising them. 

Contemplate the well known saying “necessity is the mother of invention”. When the need for something becomes essential, we are forced to find ways of getting or achieving it. Therefore, banning the Forced Swim Test would not only help animals, but it would also create a large incentive for researchers to establish additional and improve existing viable replacement methods to help more people than the current fundamentally flawed method ever could.

Examples of human-relevant depression research in New Zealand:

  • The Nutrients for Mental Health, Anxiety and Depression (NoMAD) Trial

The aim of this study is to find out if micronutrients have any effect on reducing the signs of depression in humans. The researchers have made it clear that medications work for some people and can save lives, but supplements containing micronutrients could be a less risky option to try out first in some cases.

  • The NUTRIMUM Study

The aim of this study is to find out if a vitamin and mineral (micronutrient) supplement can improve low mood and anxiety in pregnant women.

Many different surveys have been conducted in New Zealand, involving large groups of people suffering from depression (epidemiology).

For example:

This study involved 1747 New Zealanders who use antidepressant treatments answering a survey about their experience of antidepressants.

This study involved 1829 New Zealanders who had been prescribed antidepressants in the past five years filling in an online survey about experiences with, and beliefs about, antidepressants.

Other examples of NZ-based, human-relevant research on depression:

Thank you to Dr Emily Trunnell from PETA for providing expert advice for this article.

With your help we can end animal experimentation in Aotearoa.