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Researchers in Russia have developed a new nanomedicine testing system based on plant leaves. Using this new solution could cut down on animal testing. Based on a spinach leaf, this system uses the leaf’s vascular structure with all cell bodies removed, apart from their walls, to imitate the arterioles and capillaries of the human brain. Human cells can be put in this scaffolding, and then drugs can be tested on them — reducing the need to test them on animals or reducing the negative effects they may cause if animals are still used. 

Scientists of the ITMO University’s SCAMT Institute in St. Petersburg published their study in Nano Letters. They say that both traditional and nano-pharmaceutical treatments can be tested with this plant-based model, and they have already used it to simulate and treat thrombosis.

Aleksandra Predeina, a researcher at ITMO’s Faculty of Biotechnologies and a co-author of the article, told Science X. “We want to attract the attention of the scientific community to the problem of irrational usage of laboratory animals. Currently, you only have to test a new substance on cell cultures before proceeding with animal trials. I think this is wrong — we need another stage in between these two which would identify flaws and provide room for improvement in drugs, thus saving the lives of many animals. Maybe plant-based models will serve as this middle stage.”

Although there have been advances in several countries in the banning of tests in animals for cosmetics (like recently in ColombiaNew Jersey and Mexico), testing for biomedical research is still widespread. There have been many alternatives developed, but it takes a long time for researchers and regulatory bodies to trust them. Any new alternative increases the pressure towards ditching once and for all the animal models proven to be unreliable and flawed.