updated 6/12/2007 4:04:18 PM ET 2007-06-12T20:04:18

Improved laboratory testing could speed the process of checking chemicals for toxicity and reduce reliance on test animals, according to an analysis released Tuesday.

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The National Research Council said improvements in methods of testing cells and tissues could lead to fundamental changes in the way toxicity testing is done.

Using cells, preferably of human origin, lab tests could indicate potential danger to humans by observing the effect on those cells or cell lines of commercial pesticides and other chemicals.

Currently, chemicals are generally tested by giving them to animals in large doses. Humans are usually exposed to much lower doses, however, so the animal results are not always directly applicable.

Improved methods could accelerate process
And, the current system can be time consuming, while lab tests in calls can be done more quickly, according to the council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, requested by the Environmental Protection Agency, recommends looking into newly developed test methods focusing on cellular pathways that, when disturbed, tend to lead to illness.

So called “high-throughput assays” can test hundreds or thousands of chemicals over a wide range of concentrations determine the chemicals’ effects.

While animal testing will still be needed, using new test methods could reduce the need for such tests and potentially eliminate it at some point, the report said.

However, substantial research will be needed to develop and prove the value of the new tests, the report noted.

The National Academy is a private institution chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

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