Flatworms proposed as alternative to rabbit skin testing

A new, accurate screening tool for clinical skin products has been developed which uses worms, rather than rabbits

Tests for skin treatments could be screened using flatworms, rather than animals such as rabbits, according to teams at the University of Reading and Newcastle University.

Flatworms were discovered to be a reliable alternative for testing topical skin products used to treat human tissues, such as the eyes, nose or vagina to ensure they are not harmful.

The paper, published in Toxicology in Vitro, shows that the use of a fluorescent dye, mixed in with a potential skin product is absorbed through the outer layers of planaria (flatworm) skin.

Such tests are said to be cheaper and more ethical than existing animal tests for clinical skin products.

Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, a Professor of Formulation Science at the University of Reading, said: “Developing more ethical alternatives to tests that others do on rabbits, known as the Draize test, has been a major challenge, especially in relation to evaluating products for sensitive human tissue.

“Our tests with flatworms show that there are potential ways to screen skin irritants in a more ethically responsible way.

“While the vast majority of cosmetic skin products are no longer tested on animals, it remains critical that new developments for clinical treatments are tested robustly and we hope that we can find solutions that consign the Draize test to history.

“We also hope to continue planaria research and develop further tests for probe irritation potential of chemicals to other human tissues."

Cosmetic testing on animals is banned in a number of countries including all EU countries, India, Israel, Norway, Guatemala and, most recently, Colombia.