A breakthrough in the testing method known as “in vitro” could spell the end of animal use in carcinogen research, according to an article published on The Conversation.

Carcinogens are factors that alter the DNA (genetic information) of cells. According to Professor Gareth Jenkins of Swansea University Medical School and Shareen Doak, a Professor of Genotoxicology and Cancer, “this damage leads to DNA mutations that alter the structure and function of the key genes in our bodies which are responsible for controlling cell growth.”

Animals are frequently subject to testing aimed to identify genotoxic and non-genotoxic carcinogens. Both of these are linked to accelerating cancer development and growth, however, non-genotoxins are more complicated to detect. The lack of comprehensive information surrounding non-genotoxic substances is what leads to incessant medical animal testing, Jenkins, Doak, and their research group note.

Instead of investing time and money into animal testing, the professors are researching “in vitro” testing for carcinogens. On the surface, the method is simple — cell-based systems grow cell models on a 2D sheet.

Doak and Jenkins maintain this method is more effective than animal testing – typically conducted on rodents – because it allows for human tissue to be grown and studied. The biological differences between rodent and human, the professors note, are too different to rely on.

“Every year, around 12,000 rodents are involved in European carcinogenicity studies, to test whether a chemical could cause cancer,” Doak and Jenkins note. “More than 600 rodents are tested on with each chemical, and monitored for cancer growth over two years.”

The pair continued, “we recently published results from a five-year study which outlined how, by coupling together multiple human cell abnormalities known to be important in cancer development, we are better able to identify carcinogens in vitro.”

Amid a major push from animal rights activists and animal welfare-conscious consumers, many companies are opting to eliminate animal testing altogether. “In vitro” testing is just one of many cruelty-free testing methods within the medical science field. Recently, a new artificial intelligence system was announced, which can identify the toxicity of a substance in seconds