WASHINGTON - Animal testing has become problematic in the past few decades, as animal rights activists have uncovered numerous instances of animal cruelty as well as the cost labs face in keeping animal test subjects, especially if they're treated humanely.
Some pharmaceutical companies are finding that to test the effectiveness, and safety of their products, they need look no farther than at a wriggling petri dish.
While keeping laboratory animals such as rats for use in experiments is an expensive process for researchers, moth larvae may offer an alternative.
BioSystems Technologies scientists said the larvae they are producing can be a stand-in for more expensive mammals.
Dr. Olivia Champion of BioSystems said of the larvae, "You can actually screen huge panels of potential antibiotics for example and you can screen them at an early stage, and you can identify compounds that may have efficacy, so they actually have activity against a bacterial pathogen, or you can screen compounds for toxicity, and you can't do that scale of an experiment using mammals."
The promise has always been there, but the problem is that no one was breeding larvae specifically for use as product testers.
"Everybody who used the larvae had to buy them as fishing bait. So they would have to go online to tackle shops or stop off at their local pet shops and buy tubs of grubs that they used in their labs for research," Champion said.
Larvae called Galleria, are different: they have a uniform size, weight and age and are decontaminated and bred without the use of any hormones or antibiotics.
"We breed them from a defined genetic background. We've genome sequenced the breeding colony, and so we know that all the larvae come from the same genetic stock," she said.
By injecting the larvae with various microbes, and potential treatments, the team can quickly gauge what treatments seem to be working.
The researchers said using the larvae could cut the number of mammals labs need by up to 80 percent.