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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University October 30, 2006 | Vol. 36 No. 9
How Cosmetics Led to the Creation of a New Field of Science

Alan Goldberg has directed CAAT since its founding in 1981.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Responding to a call for help, CAAT was formed to advance humane testing

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

In a sense, the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing began with a bunny costume.

In the late 1970s, activist Henry Spira, founder of Animal Rights International, organized a campaign against the cosmetic industry's use of animal tests to ensure the safety of new products. Specifically, rabbits were commonly used to test for irritancy and hypersensitivity to the skin and eyes.

On April 15, 1980, Spira and ARI organized a protest march at Revlon headquarters in New York and that same day ran a full-page advertisement in The New York Times with the headline "How many rabbits does Revlon blind for beauty's sake?" At the march, Spira came dressed in a bunny suit.

The media took notice — as did Revlon and the rest of the industry.

Less than a year later, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association put together a pool of $1 million and asked the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health to help them find alternatives to animal testing. An academic center, one of JHU's first, was born.

Since the mid-1990s, due in large part to the center's efforts, the cosmetics industry no longer uses animals for testing of its final products.

For 25 years now, the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, known as CAAT, has been working to bring about the best, most humane science possible at Johns Hopkins and around the world. CAAT is dedicated to improving both animal welfare and the quality of research by using the latest techniques.

The center will celebrate its first quarter century on Thursday, Nov. 2, with an anniversary symposium to be held in the School of Public Health's Sommer Hall. The event, titled "A Celebration of Progress in Humane Science," will bring together hundreds of individuals and organizations from around the world to discuss the past, present and future of humane science and alternatives to animal testing.

Alan Goldberg, the center's founding director and a professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health, says that the center's initial funding, which was "a huge figure at the time," offered the first real sign of hope that in vitro methods (using cells and tissues outside the body in an artificial environment) could be used to determine the safety or effectiveness of a drug or ingredient.

Today, CAAT continues to dedicate itself to improving both animal welfare and the quality of research and has become a world leader in the development and use of alternative methods in biomedical research, product safety testing and education.

Each year, the center funds research in laboratories throughout the United States that seek to develop in vitro and other alternative techniques, such as the use of computer modeling or animals lower on the phylogenic scale. Through CAAT, Goldberg says, Johns Hopkins has led the way in greatly reducing animal use and, in some cases, replacing animals entirely. Currently, many industries — household goods, consumer products, pharmaceutical and food — incorporate a variety of in vitro and alternative methods.

As the anniversary approaches, Goldberg says that he can't help but look back with pride at what the center has accomplished.

"We have created a field — actually legitimized a field of science," he says. "You cannot go to a toxicology meeting anywhere in the world these days and not have alternatives talked about."

From its inception, CAAT has operated under the "3Rs" philosophy that seeks to make science more predictive and more efficient, as well as more humane. The three R's — replacement, reduction and refinement — ask to not use animals if a nonanimal method can answer the scientific question at hand, keep the number of animals to the minimum necessary to answer the question and minimize any pain or distress the animals may experience.

An example of this philosophy at work, Goldberg says, is the increasing use of zebra fish and nematodes in human safety testing.

"The beauty of both of these organisms is that we know their complete genome, so we can determine what changes are taking place when we study them, and we can study them as whole live animals because they are transparent," Goldberg says. "Their use has opened up the opportunities to noninvasive approaches to testing."

As part of its mission, the center also seeks to foster dialogue and collaboration with individuals from industry, government and academia in addition to "stakeholders," advocates for animal rights, children's health and the environment. Goldberg says that CAAT serves as a forum for these diverse groups to find ways to facilitate acceptance and implementation of alternatives.

"We work with groups, some of whom bring different agendas, and try to reach a consensus on how to move forward and determine where animal tests are necessary," he says.

In terms of education, the center presents symposia, workshops and every two years takes part in the World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences. CAAT initiated the world congresses and hosted the first in 1993. The sixth such congress will be held in August 2007 in Tokyo.

CAAT also looks to provide reliable information on the science, philosophy and public policy of alternatives. To this end, it developed AltWeb (, a global online clearinghouse for information on alternatives to animal testing.

In 1999, CAAT introduced TestSmart, an approach to risk assessment intended to provide a new model for toxicology, one that is both more humane and more predictive.

Currently, one focus area for TestSmart is on developmental neurotoxicity (the impact of chemicals on the developing human nervous system), an area of high need in the development of alternatives to current animal-testing protocols and guidelines. Goldberg says that current methods for developmental neurotoxicity testing are complex and expensive and will require vast increases in the numbers of animals to be used unless alternatives can be found.

Looking forward, Goldberg says that the alternatives field will be forced to move forward by the push for translational toxicology — the understanding of biological changes induced by a chemical used in human disease research — and the establishment of Reach (Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals), a European program whose aim is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the properties of chemical substances. The program will evaluate more than 30,000 chemicals for all potential toxic and environmental impacts and could require studies using 40 to 100 million animals and costing some $13 billion.

"This will be a huge program, and at the end of all this testing, it's not sure if they will have all the answers," he says. "We need to begin to look at better and more effective ways of doing these studies to better predict what will happen in humans. This is what we do."

The anniversary celebration will involve a number of events during the week, including a meeting of all 16 "3Rs" centers from around the world. It will be the first meeting of its kind. Following the symposium on Thursday, a gala dinner celebration will take place at the American Visionary Art Museum.

For more information about the anniversary symposium and gala, go to or contact Betsy Nessen Merrill at

For more information about the center, go to


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