An underexposed ethical issue raised by tissue engineering is the use of laboratory animals in tissue engineering research. Even though this research results in suffering and loss of life in animals, tissue engineering also has great potential for the development of alternatives to animal experiments. With the objective of promoting a joint effort of tissue engineers and alternative experts to fully realise this potential, this study provides the first comprehensive overview of the possibilities of using tissue-engineered constructs as a replacement of laboratory animals. Through searches in two large biomedical databases (PubMed, Embase) and several specialised 3R databases, 244 relevant primary scientific articles, published between 1991 and 2011, were identified. By far most articles reviewed related to the use of tissue-engineered skin/epidermis for toxicological applications such as testing for skin irritation. This review article demonstrates, however, that the potential for the development of alternatives also extends to other tissues such as other epithelia and the liver, as well as to other fields of application such as drug screening and basic physiology. This review discusses which impediments need to be overcome to maximise the contributions that the field of tissue engineering can make, through the development of alternative methods, to the reduction of the use and suffering of laboratory animals.
Keywords: animal testing alternatives; ethics; in vitro test; systematic review; three Rs; tissue engineering.
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.