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What Is In-Vitro Testing and What Is It Used For?

You may have heard of in-vitro testing before, especially around the topic of fertility. In-vitro testing involves much more than fertility, though. It has been used to find cures for diseases and test the reactions of different chemicals and compounds. 

If you’re curious about in-vitro testing or have questions about what goes into in-vitro research, then read on. 

In-vitro testing is when scientists test chemicals, toxins, or dangerous bacteria on living tissue such as human cells in a test tube. This method of testing has become a popular alternative to animal testing. 

In-vitro testing removes a small bit of tissue from a living body and tests the tissue itself, leaving the living organism safe and sound. The Latin term in vitro means “in glass” and refers to the tissues being tested in glass test tubes. 

In-vitro testing is one of the many alternative options to avoid animal testing. It accomplishes the following:

  • Replaces animal models
  • Reduces the number of animals used
  • Refines test methods to minimize suffering and stress to animals

Because in-vitro tests can be done outside the living organism, even human tissue can be tested. This reduces the number of animals involved in the testing of several pathogens, drugs, and vaccines.

In-vitro testing can be used for multiple purposes to help preserve health.

  • Detect diseases or other conditions — Once we know what certain diseases or conditions look like in human tissues, we can more easily detect them in people’s bodies. Scientists can compare living tissues from healthy and sick people with in-vitro testing. This shows them what the progression of various illnesses looks like. Scientists can use this information to help better understand what diseases are doing to the body and predict disease in people who don’t have any symptoms yet.
  • Monitor a person’s health — Some diseases don’t have any external symptoms. Certain cancers are seemingly invisible until they spread. Using in-vitro tests can help monitor a person’s health by comparing the tissues from a previous year and noting any changes. Doctors and researchers can also use in-vitro tests to watch how a certain medication or treatment is affecting the body and determine which treatment is most effective.
  • Precision medicine — In-vitro tests can also pinpoint which patients are most likely to benefit from various treatments. This type of testing looks at tissues and genomes and can find genetic variations. 

There are pros and cons to almost everything in life, and in-vitro testing is no exception. 

Pros of in-vitro testing:

  • It may be more accurate than animal testing. Human tissue can be similar to animal tissue, but it is still unique. Some bacteria, pathogens, and diseases affect human tissue differently. Testing on human tissue can be more accurate than on animals.
  • It saves the lives of animals. By testing living human tissue in test tubes, animals are not needed for the testing process. In-vitro testing reduces the number of animals used in laboratories. 
  • It may give faster results. In-vitro testing shows results more quickly than testing in vivo. Scientists may be able to detect cures more efficiently by studying in vitro.
  • It can be cost effective. Due to the lack of animal bodies and the efficiency of in-vitro tests, it can end up being less expensive than animal testing. 
  • It’s more environmentally friendly. In-vitro research creates less waste than in-vivo testing, which makes it safer for the environment.

Cons of in-vitro testing:

  • It’s difficult to model full organs/tissues. Some pathogens don’t affect single organs but an entire system. It’s difficult to show the results of certain cancers or pathogens that affect entire organs or systems with in-vitro testing.
  • Careful research controls are needed. This is also an issue with animal testing. There have to be approved, reliable, and ethically sound sources for in-vitro research. Companies and governments need to regulate the sources of the tissues and ensure ethical boundaries have not been crossed when obtaining it from these sources.

In-vitro testing certainly has its benefits, but it’s not perfect yet. Until we fine-tune our technologies, we have to work with various testing procedures. One such procedure is in-vivo testing. 

In-vivo testing sounds very similar to in-vitro testing, and both of these procedures deal with living tissue. In-vivo testing studies living tissues within the organism, and in-vitro testing studies the living tissue outside the body.

To study the effect of the same pathogen on living tissue with in-vivo testing, the pathogen would be injected into a living organism, like an animal, and the entire animal would be studied as the pathogen acts out its course. There are laws in place against in-vivo testing in humans, so most of this testing is done on animals.

A good example to explain both of these types of testing is the process of fertilization. There are two ways for a woman’s egg to be fertilized by sperm: in vivo and in vitro. 

  • In-vivo fertilization — This is when sperm ejaculates into the vagina, makes it to the cervix, finds and penetrates the egg, and then fertilizes it. 
  • In-vitro fertilization (IVF) — When it is very difficult for a couple to conceive, their doctor may suggest IVF treatments. A surgeon will remove one or more eggs from the woman’s ovary and fertilize the egg directly with sperm in a controlled environment. Then the doctor reinserts the egg into the woman. IVF is a common treatment for couples who struggle to conceive and traditional methods haven’t worked for various physical or environmental causes. 

In-vitro testing can help researchers learn more about the ways diseases affect us and help us avoid illness in the future. It also provides an alternative to animal testing. 

As we develop more technology like in-vitro testing, we become more acquainted with our bodies and how they are affected by pathogens, diseases, and aging processes. We can use in-vitro testing and any future discoveries to enhance whole-body wellness and find cures for illness.

https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/products-and-medical-procedures/vitro-diagnostics

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3818914

https://www.fda.gov/media/72383/download

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