Growing New Veins Could Make Life Better for People on Dialysis

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The journey awaiting kidney patients in need of a transplant is often long and painful, and can lead to weekly stints undergoing uncomfortable dialysis treatment. A new device, which helps patients grow new veins that make it easier to filter the blood, could mean the world to those who have to endure the procedure every few days for months or even years.

As kidneys fail, they stop cleaning the blood from the impurities that the body normally gets rid of via urine. Although kidney disease can sometimes have few symptoms, it can be fatal, unless doctors intervene and perform the kidneys’ job outside the body, through the process known as dialysis. During dialysis, patients have their blood pulled out, purified and put back in on a regular basis. The tedious procedure keeps them alive as they wait for a transplant, but it has some serious side effects, including damage to the veins.

Long-term dialysis users have a plastic tube implanted into their arm to facilitate the removal and injection of blood, because human veins are too fragile to endure the procedure every week for a long time. The tiny plastic tubes are meant to protect the veins while also making it easier to extract the blood.

However, “when you leave plastic implants in the body, they tend to occlude [block] quite easily,” explained Silvére Lucquin, CEO of the company Aditlys, to Engadget. His company’s research indicates that these blockages occur in 50 percent of patients within the first year of therapy. For this reason, Aditlys wants to equip patients to better cope with prolonged periods of dialysis, by helping them grow blood vessels that connect more easily to the machine.

They plan to do so by installing a hollow artificial implant into a patient’s veins. Over time, this polymer-based vessel will supports the growth of new tissue that shapes around it. While the implant slowly dissolves, the new veins will form a natural link for the dialysis tube.

Compared with a plastic implant permanently stuck in the arm, the natural junction protects patients from the infections that are very common in this type of procedure. Aditlys plans to use a combination of advanced medical technologies, building on a process of endogenous tissue restoration introduced by a company called Xeltis. While Xeltis mainly worked on restoring heart valves, Lucquin and his team will be focusing on blood vessels.

The idea is still in its early stages, and it still has a long way to go before hitting the market. Yet given that one in three American adults risk getting kidney disease at some point, every improvement that can make their life easier has the potential to make a massive impact.

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The ACLU Demands To Know How TSA Is Screening Your Electronics

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In the United States, a police officer has to get a warrant before searching the property of someone who’s under suspicion or has been arrested — a law that also covers electronic property like a mobile device or laptop. Yet that protection does not extend to airports, where Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees are free to search the electronic devices of anyone passing through the U.S. borders.

On March 12, (ACLU) Foundation of Northern California filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit requesting government documents that detail the policies around this process for domestic travelers, which the organization says are “shrouded in secrecy.”

“TSA is searching the electronic devices of domestic passengers, but without offering any reason for the search,” said ACLU staff attorney Vasudha Talla in a statement. “We don’t know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don’t know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices,” she said.  “Our phones and laptops contain very personal information, and the federal government should not be digging through our digital data without a warrant.”

The use of electronic property has become a hot legal issue of late, as governments seek more latitude in using personal data to seek out and prosecute wrongdoers. VICE Motherboard reports that U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) agents have recently increased the number of searches done on electronic devices: from 5,000 in 2015 to over 19,000 in 2016 and over 30,000 in 2017. That’s an increase of over 70 percent from 2015-2016, and nearly 60 percent from 2016-2017 — a spike that made its way into many a news report.

An October 2017 announcement of increased screenings, plus a directive on electronic searches released by the CBP earlier this year, suggest that the agency has no intention of stopping these searches.

“We don’t know why the government is singling out some passengers, and we don’t know what exactly TSA is searching on the devices”

“Travelers are obligated to present electronic devices and the information contained therein in a  condition that allows inspection of the device and its contents,” the mandate reads, noting: “Passcodes or other means of access may be requested and retained as needed to facilitate the examination of an electronic device or information contained on an electronic device, including information on the device that is accessible through software applications.”

Unless airport security gets a modern upgrade, such policies could put passengers’ privacy at serious risk. The ACLU’s lawsuit is seeking records from the TSA field office in San Francisco and the TSA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, with a focus on the policies and protocols around searches, the equipment and software used to extract data, and how officers conducting the searches are trained. The ACLU did not receive a response to a public records request filed in December 2017, prompting this most recent lawsuit.

“It speaks to a growing attempt by the government to investigate individuals not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion, but perhaps based on impermissible factors,” Talla told The Guardian.“These are materials that should not be terribly difficult to track down. We’re just not clear what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”

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You’re Probably Drinking Microplastics With Your Bottled Water

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You already know how bad plastic bottles are for the planet. We go through a million of them per minute and are generally terrible at recycling. As a result, bottles join other plastic waste in clogging up waterways, harming wildlife and accumulating in delicate ecosystems.

Now we know this plastic use is probably not too good for us, either. In fact, taking a sip of bottled water might come with more than you bargained for.

The water sold in plastic bottles contains microplastics at levels that might endanger human health, according to a recent study. As a result, the World Health Organization plans to investigate the potential health risks of ingesting plastic, the BBC reports.

Microplastics are pieces of plastic that have broken down a size smaller than a fingernail. About 275,000 metric tons of the stuff enter our waterways each year, according to some estimates.

In the study, which has not been published in a scientific journal and was commissioned by journalistic outlet Orb Media, researchers at State University of New York at Fredonia tested water from 259 bottles produced by 11 different companies and purchased in nine countries. They dropped a red dye into the bottles because the dye sticks to the plastics, differentiating them from the water in which they float. The scientists counted an average of 10.4 plastic particles per liter. Some bottles had no plastic in them at all. In a liter of Nestle Pure Life, there were 10,000.

The findings suggest that a person who drinks a liter of bottled water a day — half of what the average person needs every day — might be consuming tens of thousands of microplastic particles each year, the Orb Media article notes.

We don’t yet know how microplastics affect our health, but there’s reason to think that their buildup in our systems wouldn’t be good for us. We already know that when microplastics build up in animals like fish, they affect their behavior and alter their hormones. Some chemicals in plastic are known to have similar effects on humans.

If you’re shocked that there’s plastic in your water, well, you haven’t been paying attention. A previous investigation by Orb Media found that 83 percent of tap water samples contained microplastics. The shocking thing about this study? The amount of microplastic found in plastic bottles was double what scientists found in tap water.

It’s difficult to imagine a solution that would take care of the problem completely. Municipalities and companies could better filter water before it flows into taps and plastic bottles. But even if we did that, we would still have discarded plastic bottles breaking down into microplastics in water everywhere — not to mention lots of other plastic products. Better filtration would just be a temporary solution to a much larger problem. People, along with the ecosystems in which they live and the animals that live there with them, would probably be better off if governments banned plastics altogether.

The post You’re Probably Drinking Microplastics With Your Bottled Water appeared first on Futurism.


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Autonomous Robot Bees Are Being Patented by… Walmart?

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Walmart has just filed a patent for autonomous, robot bees. Yes, that Walmart — and no, you didn’t slip into another, stranger dimension. The mega-corporation’s patent specifically covers “pollination drones.” These tiny robots could act just like bees, pollinating crops autonomously.

The robot bees would operate using sensors and cameras to help them navigate to crops. Flying around autonomously, these drones could potentially pollinate as effectively as the real thing.

An artist's representation of what robot bees may look like.
Robot bees could save agriculture while real bee populations dwindle. Image Credit: Polynoid/Greenpeace/Vimeo

Oddly enough, this is not the only farming patent that Walmart has filed recently. According to CB Insights, this is only one of six Walmart patents for farming drones that would do everything from monitor crop damage to spray pesticides. Incorporating autonomous robots into farming could cut costs and increase agriculture efficiency.

The thing that’s so puzzling about this move is: why Walmart?

The retailer hasn’t publicly commented on the patents yet, so the reasons behind Walmart’s sudden interest in farming drones has to be left up to interpretation. Yet since many Walmart locations do carry produce, it’s possible that the company is looking to gain more control of the food it’s selling. Perhaps by taking such a significant role in agriculture, the company will be able to improve quality and cut costs.

This seems like a sound explanation, especially since Walmart has decided to expand its grocery delivery service. According to a patent filed by the company in January, this service will allow shoppers to accept or reject produce. While such a service has potential to rake in serious business for Walmart, it also means they will need to step up the quality of their produce. Hence, potentially, the robo-bees.

Meanwhile, honeybee populations are dying, and we can no longer take pollination for granted. These small creatures are the backbone of agriculture and the food that we eat. While scientists work to better understand declining pollinator populations, and hopefully come up with solutions, these Walmart farming drones could keep agriculture, and fresh produce, alive.

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After a Year Away from Earth, Scott Kelly’s “Space Genes” Set Him Apart From His Twin

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Scott and Mark Kelly are identical twin brothers. They’re also both former astronauts. Scott spent a year living in the International Space Station, while Mark was here on Earth. The Twin Study, as it was called, was an effort to help scientists understand the effects of extended time in space. NASA already has as pretty good grasp of what happens to the body after six months on the ISS. But the effects after a year are far more important if we’re going to eventually send people to Mars, and beyond.

Though Scott Kelly returned to Earth in March 2016, scientists are still running the data to figure out the effects on his body and mind. At the 2018 Investigator’s Workshop for NASA’s Human Research Program in January, NASA released its findings, revealing that Scott returned safely, but something about his gene expression had changed.

NASA measured Scott’s metabolites, cytokines and proteins before, during, and after his mission. Researchers learned that spaceflight is associated with oxygen deprivation stress, increased inflammation, and dramatic nutrient shifts that affect gene expression.
Furthermore, Scott’s telomeres (the ends of chromosomes that shorten as people get older) become longer while in space, but shortened again within 48 hours of Scott returning to Earth.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery is the change to Scott’s genes. 93 percent remained unchanged after the year-long stay in space, but the remaining 7 percent — referred to as “space genes” — were expressed differently (the DNA itself wasn’t fundamentally altered, as some headlines stated and The Verge notes). These changes might have long-lasting effects on the immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia (oxygen deficiency in tissue), and hypercapnia (an abundance of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream). 7 percent might sound insignificant, but in fact it amounts to several hundred of genes.

Expect more findings from the Twin Study in the near future, starting with an integrated summary paper NASA will publish later this year. NASA states a “series of smaller papers grouped by related research areas” will also be released this year.

The results of Scott Kelly’s year-long mission will help space agencies all over the world prepare astronauts for longer stints in space. NASA says Kelly’s work is a “stepping stone” to a three-year mission to Mars.

Hopefully, by the time the mission begins, NASA’s Mars lander will have told us much more about the Red Planet. That way, the astronauts will have a better idea of what to expect.

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A Revolutionary New Way to Improve Your Diet and Health

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In recent years, the role of the bacteria and other organisms in the gut have become a major focus of those looking to improve health and wellness. Probiotic companies that promise everything from improved digestion to a better mood have made billions selling their products. However, every gut is entirely unique. What may work for you may do little for someone else, so it’s important to know exactly what your gut needs. A new company called Viome is looking to provide a high-tech way of making that happen.


Viome is the only company that uses RNA sequencing to analyze your gut microbiome. This technology allows them to provide accurate personalized diet and nutrition recommendation for improved health and wellness. A customer sends a small stool sample to Viome using a simple home test kit that is delivered to their door. A proprietary artificial intelligence engine that was created by scientists, physicians and nutritionists will analyze it. Customers also do a metabolic test and complete a questionnaire about their habits to help further hone in on their needs.

Naveen Jain, founder and CEO of Viome, told Futurism that many companies use DNA sequencing to analyze your gut, but looking at DNA creates false information about what’s ailing you. He said by analyzing RNA, they can tell customers exactly which foods are good for them and which ones are not.

“RNA only gets created when something is alive and replicating,” Jain said. “Since RNA only lasts for a short time, every time you take the sample, you only see microorganisms that are alive.”


Jain said Viome was able to offer RNA analysis, which is usually very expensive, because it teamed up with Los Alamos National Lab. That lab does research related to national security, and they were studying biodefense before Viome launched. They were researching the best way to quickly find out what’s making people sick if there’s a biological attack, and they developed technology that was much cheaper to use so it can be used on a large scale. Viome now brings that technology to the populace.

Once a customer has done their tests and completed the questionnaire, Viome delivers nutrition recommendations and other advice specifically tailored to improve their overall health. People who are looking to lose weight, eat better, feel better or improve other aspects of their health can benefit from such an analysis.

Dr. Helen Messier, Chief Medical Officer at Viome, said that “by looking at the microbiome using RNA technology we now have an unprecedented understanding of how these microbes affect one’s health.  We can precisely see whether an individual will benefit or be harmed by specific foods such as spinach. walnuts, protein shakes, broccoli, or beets which were previously thought to be healthy for everyone.  It is not about the food being healthy, but about whether it is healthy for you. This is all determined by your microbiome.”


Studies have shown what happens in your gut also affects how you feel mentally, and vice versa. Have you ever had stomach issues and felt upset or gotten queasy before a job interview? We all have, and that’s because the gut and the mind are closely connected. There is actually a nerve called the vagus nerve that connects the gut to the brain to relay messages between them. If your gut is happy, it’s much easier for you to feel happy.

“This gut-brain axis is the connection between our gut and our emotions and behavior,” Jain said. “Microbes in humans are really controlling everything we do.

There is an ongoing debate over what specific diet and foods are good for the average person. In the era of new fad diets coming out almost daily, eating right can be very confusing. Viome makes conflicting food advice obsolete. You are now able to harness the power of cutting edge technology to know exactly what you need to eat to feel better, lose weight, end cravings and have more energy. What you eat can affect the gut significantly, so learning what foods you should eat is critical for your good health. Viome makes this easy, and you can use code FUTURISM20 for $ 20 off your order.

Disclosure: This is an affiliate post for Viome, and Futurism may receive a percentage of sales. Futurism editorial staff was not involved in the production of this post.

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OpenAI Wants to Make Safe AI, but That May Be an Impossible Task

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True artificial intelligence is on its way, and we aren’t ready for it. Just as our forefathers had trouble visualizing everything from the modern car to the birth of the computer, it’s difficult for most people to imagine how much truly intelligent technology could change our lives as soon as the next decade — and how much we stand to lose if AI goes out of our control.

Fortunately, there’s a league of individuals working to ensure that the birth of artificial intelligence isn’t the death of humanity. From Max Tegmark’s Future of Life Institute to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Future Society, the world’s most renowned experts are joining forces to tackle one of the most disruptive technological advancements (and greatest threats) humanity will ever face.

Perhaps the most famous organization to be born from this existential threat is OpenAI. It’s backed by some of the most respected names in the industry: Elon Musk, the SpaceX billionaire who founded Open AI, but departed the board this year to avoid conflicts of interest with Tesla; Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator; and Peter Thiel, of PayPal fame, just to name a few. If anyone has a chance at securing the future of humanity, it’s OpenAI.

But there’s a problem. When it comes to creating safe AI and regulating this technology, these great minds have little clue what they’re doing. They don’t even know where to begin.

The Dawn of a New Battle

While traveling in Dubai, I met with Michael Page, the Policy and Ethics Advisor at OpenAI. Beneath the glittering skyscrapers of the self-proclaimed “city of the future,” he told me of the uncertainty that he faces. He spoke of the questions that don’t have answers, and the fantastically high price we’ll pay if we don’t find them.

The conversation began when I asked Page about his role at OpenAI. He responded that his job is to “look at the long-term policy implications of advanced AI.” If you think that this seems a little intangible and poorly defined, you aren’t the only one. I asked Page what that means, practically speaking. He was frank in his answer: “I’m still trying to figure that out.” 

Types of AI: From Reactive to Self-Aware [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Page attempted to paint a better picture of the current state of affairs by noting that, since true artificial intelligence doesn’t actually exist yet, his job is a little more difficult than ordinary.

He noted that, when policy experts consider how to protect the world from AI, they are really trying to predict the future. They are trying to, as he put it, “find the failure modes … find if there are courses that we could take today that might put us in a position that we can’t get out of.” In short, these policy experts are trying to safeguard the world of tomorrow by anticipating issues and acting today. The problem is that they may be faced with an impossible task.

Page is fully aware of this uncomfortable possibility, and readily admits it. “I want to figure out what can we do today, if anything. It could be that the future is so uncertain there’s nothing we can do,” he said.

Our problems don’t stop there. It’s also possible that we’ll figure out what we need to do in order to protect ourselves from AI’s threats, and realize that we simply can’t do it. “It could be that, although we can predict the future, there’s not much we can do because the technology is too immature,” Page said.

This lack of clarity isn’t really surprising, given how young this industry is. We are still at the beginning, and so all we have are predictions and questions. Page and his colleagues are still trying to articulate the problem they’re trying to solve, figure out what skills we need to bring to the table, and what policy makers will need to be in on the game.

As such, when asked for a concrete prediction of where humanity and AI will together be in a year, or in five years, Page didn’t offer false hope: “I have no idea,” he said.

However, Page and OpenAI aren’t alone in working on finding the solutions. He therefore hopes such solutions may be forthcoming: “Hopefully, in a year, I’ll have an answer. Hopefully, in five years, there will be thousands of people thinking about this,” Page said.

Well then, perhaps it’s about time we all get our thinking caps on.

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Google Becomes Most Recent Platform to Prohibit Cryptocurrency Ads

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Google has announced that it is banning all ads related to cryptocurrencies. According to The Wall Street Journal, the move comes amid an increased interest in cryptocurrencies, which has led to scammers using cryptocurrency ads to promote fake online schemes.

In a blog post, Google explained the ban will go into effect in June 2018 as part of an update to its financial services policy. Ads related to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice will also be impacted.

“We don’t have a crystal ball to know where the future is going to go with cryptocurrencies, but we’ve seen enough consumer harm or potential for consumer harm that it’s an area that we want to approach with extreme caution,” Scott Spencer, Google’s director of sustainable ads, told CNBC.

One such tactic scammers have resorted to using is “crypto-jacking,” in which scammers add new code to websites and ads that enables them to utilize the power of other people’s computers to mine crypto. While cheaper than buying a cryptocurrency-mining space heater, it still comes at the expense of unsuspecting people. 

The Entire History of Bitcoin in a Single Infographic
Click to View Full Infographic

Google isn’t the only company to ban cryptocurrency ads. In January, Facebook announced a ban of its own on ads promoting binary options, initial coin offerings and cryptocurrency. “This policy is part of an ongoing effort to improve the integrity and security of our ads, and to make it harder for scammers to profit from a presence on Facebook,” said Rob Leathern, Facebook’s Product Management Director, at the time.

Twitter has also stated that they are working on a fix for cryptocurrency scams.

In a previous blog post, Spencer that revealed Google removed 3.2 billion ads in 2017 that violated the company’s advertising policies. That included 66 million “trick-to-click” ads and 48 million ads attempting to convince users to install unwanted, and potentially harmful, software.

Despite the increased popularity of cryptocurrencies, harmful ads and online scams are still holding the currency back, and do nothing but tell people the market is still as unregulated and untrustworthy as ever. Even the blockchain technology that enables it may not be as secure as previously thought. These are issues that need to be addressed if cryptos are indeed to be a big part of the future of currency.

Disclosure: Several members of the Futurism team, including the editors of this piece, are personal investors in a number of cryptocurrency markets. Their personal investment perspectives have no impact on editorial content.

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Microbial Armor Could Protect Dying Coral Reefs

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It turns out that humans aren’t the only species that rely on their microbiome to stay healthy. Researchers at Ohio State University are looking at the microbial communities of corals, which appear to remain healthier in warm, acidic waters that would normally kill them when their microbiomes remain intact. That’s promising news given that warm, acidic waters are exactly what climate change is expected to deliver.

Led by researcher Andréa Grottoli, the team exposed two different species of coral to the high temperatures and high levels of acidity expected by the end of the century. Normally, when a coral experiences these conditions, it takes drastic measures: the coral animal, which builds the calcium carbonate skeleton you see when you go snorkeling, ejects its partner, a symbiotic algae that helps the coral make food. This process is known as bleaching, as the algae takes the structure’s color with it when it departs, and it usually will kill the coral.

The top two images show staghorn coral before and after exposure to higher temperatures and acidity. Bottom images show the seemingly more resilient yellow scroll coral.Courtesy of The Ohio State University
Above, staghorn coral before (left) and after (right) higher temperatures and acidity. Below, the yellow scroll coral before and after the same conditions. Image Credit: Ohio State University

Yet one of the corals that Grotolli’s team examined was relatively unfazed by the warm and acidic conditions. When they looked at the microbes living in a mucus layer on its surface, they also found the species living there were almost the same as before the stressful experiment. Meanwhile, the other coral studied bleached, in response to the changing conditions, and the bacteria living on it decreased in number and in diversity.

However, Grottoli’s team isn’t yet sure if the change in the microbes are just a correlation, or if they might have a causative relationship with coral health.

“There’s far more unknown than known,” Grottoli told Oceans Deeply. “We don’t know if it’s changes in the microbial community that are causing shifts in the physiology, or if it’s changes in the physiology that make the coral no longer a good host of the microbes.”

Researchers are hard at work trying to untangle that relationship. Early work certainly seems to suggest that like the humans microbiome, coral microbes help the animals to handle stress and fight off disease. The coral microbiome may even be flexible: Experiments in transplanting colder water corals to warmer environments show that the animals were able to take up new species of bacteria and survive.

This information could help scientists figure out ways to preserve corals in warmer and more acidic seas — whether that’s identifying areas with more resilient coral to protect, giving corals probiotics to bulk up their microbiome, or even breeding “super corals” that can better handle warmer seas.

Such action may be needed sooner than later. The most recent global coral bleaching event lasted over three years, and in many reefs wiped out between 70 and 100 percent of the coral there. Most reefs would need at least a decade to recover from an event of that magnitude, but scientists don’t expect they’ll have that long.

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EPA Releases Strategy to Reduce Animal Testing on Vertebrates

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Animal testing has become a questionably effective thorn in the side of scientific progress. While it was once our best method, alternative methods are beginning to surpass animal testing in both accuracy and reliability. Fortunately, the EPA recently released a draft strategy to reduce the use of vertebrate animals in chemical testing.

This public stand against animal testing is a part of the EPA’s commitment to the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which amended the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

“This draft strategy is a first step toward reducing the use of animals and increasing the use of cutting-edge science to ensure chemicals are reviewed for safety with the highest scientific standards,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in a statement. The EPA’s draft strategy is currently available for public comment, and will be for 45 days as of March 7.

The draft strategy has three relatively simple components: “identifying, developing and integrating” new approaches for Toxic Substances Control Act decisions; building confidence that these new methods are scientifically reliable, and relevant to toxic substance decisions; and implementing the new methods that are a best fit. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, and the plan notes that this “necessarily describes a multi-year process with incremental steps for adoption and integration” of new testing methods.

“We welcome the draft strategy as a progressive step to reduce and ultimately replace the use of animals to regulate chemicals in the U.S. through the implementation of TSCA reform,” said Catherine Willett, director of science policy at The Humane Society of the United States, in the EPA statement. “We have every indication that EPA intends to make good on this unprecedented opportunity to not only reduce animal use, but improve the science used to evaluate chemical safety.”

Reducing and eliminating animal testing is no longer just an animal rights’ issue. Unfortunately, animal testing has been shown to produce some misleading, unreliable results, given that animals’ bodies respond to drugs and medical conditions in some significantly different ways from humans’.

Fortunately, as the EPA continues to reduce animal use in testing, alternative methods continue to develop and improve. It is possible that one day soon testing will be both animal-free and more accurate than ever before.

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