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Comment: The Implications of Microarray Technology for Animal Use in Scientific Research

Elizabeth S. Jenkins, Caren Broadhead and Robert D. Combes

Microarray technology has the potential to affect the number of laboratory animals used, the severity of animal experiments, and the development of non-animal alternatives in several areas of scientific research. Microarrays can contain hundreds or thousands of microscopic spots of DNA, immobilised on a solid support, and their use enables global patterns of gene expression to be determined in a single experiment. This technology is being used to improve our understanding of the operation of biological systems during health and disease, and their responses to chemical insults. Although it is impossible to predict with certainty any future trends regarding animal use, microarray technology might not initially reduce animal use, as is often claimed to be the case. The accelerated pace of research as a result of the use of microarrays could increase overall animal use in basic and applied biological research, by increasing the numbers of interesting genes identified for further analysis, and the number of potential targets for drug development. Each new lead will require further evaluation in studies that could involve animals. In toxicity testing, microarray studies could lead to increases in animal studies, if further confirmatory and other studies are performed. However, before such technology can be used more extensively, several technical problems need to be overcome, and the relevance of the data to biological processes needs to be assessed. Were microarray technology to be used in the manner envisaged by its protagonists, there need to be efforts to increase the likelihood that its application will create new opportunities for reducing, refining and replacing animal use. This comment is a critical assessment of the possible implications of the application of microarray technology on animal experimentation in various research areas, and makes some recommendations for maximising the application of the Three Rs.