Tessel Wijne

Digital Innovations for Animal-Free Safety Testing

Utrecht University, Faculty of Geoscience, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, t.b.wijne@uu.nl

Supervisors: Prof. Ellen Moors, Dr. Jarno Hoekman and Dr. Wouter Boon


After completing a bachelors in Biomedical Sciences at Utrecht University, I completed the Neuroscience & Cognition MSc program also at Utrecht University. During this program I mainly focused on fundamental neurobiology. My interest hereafter led me to start the Health Economics, Policy and Law masters at the Erasmus University. In my dissertation I first got experienced with STS when I studied how knowledge gets translated in the Dutch healthcare setting considering prudent use of antibiotics.

Summary PhD Project

Methods involving animal-testing are currently still the golden standard in safety assessment of chemicals. However, objections against these animal-tests are rising. Animal tests lack in predictive power for human outcomes and often do not reflect human-relevant scenarios such as differences in susceptibility due to a myriad of personal and environmental factors are poorly represented in animal models.  Moreover, ethical concerns considering the welfare of animals used in tests is increasing, especially since tests for safety-assessment are amongst the most harmful for animals.

Over the last decades, much effort has been put in stimulating research and development of innovative testing methods. Expectations of these methods to refine, reduce and replace animal testing are high. However, the desired and anticipated transition towards animal-free safety assessment of chemicals is slow.

Despite statements and declarations from governments and regulatory agencies to eliminate animal-testing, the regulatory process so far remains animal-centric. Questions surrounding certainty, risk and validity of the tests and the values and interests of stakeholders that keep these notions stable are at stake in the regulatory process. This PhD study seeks to understand how researchers and regulatory agencies deal with these questions while developing, implementing and using animal-free testing methods. More in general the project examines how transitions in the highly institutionalized field of regulatory science can be studied and facilitated.

The thesis is embedded in the Virtual Human Platform for Safety Assessment (VHP4Safety) project (NWA 1292.19.272, www.vhp4safety.nl/). The VHP4Safety project aims to address the emerging societal challenge of the transition to animal-free safety assessment, by integrating various scientific disciplines in the consortium and working with stakeholders towards implementation and societal acceptance of a platform-based approach to chemical safety assessment that is based on human data rather than animal data.