Virtual Twins to End Animal Testing

Yesterday, New Scientist published the winning article from the New Scientist/NC3Rs’ “Beyond animal research” essay competition, “Virtual twins could bring the end of animal research” by Natalia Alexandrov. In this article, Alexandrov offers the notion of a computer-generated “virtual twin” that is developed as soon as a baby is born and updated throughout his/her life. Such a model would be created by combining historical averages and things like sex, ethnicity, and basic genetic makeup.

Alexandrov offers the following scenario to elaborate on some of the benefits of a virtual twin:

“When the boy is 10, flu leaves him with a complication – severe bronchitis. Which antibiotic to prescribe? The family doctor downloads Peter’s virtual twin, updates it with the latest tests, and runs simulations for the range of available antibiotics to anticipate short-term and long-term effects. This identifies both the perfect drug and one that would have had a life-threatening, long-term effect on Peter’s blood-clotting ability, possibly leading to a future stroke.”

She also suggests that these virtual twins could mean an end to animal research. “There would no longer be a need to identify a population for a drug trial, nor would years go by in tests while desperate patients are waiting for a new drug.” Some of those who have commented on Alexandrov’s article disagree.

“No matter how far along this project comes along a computer model would not be able to PREDICT the reaction to a drug that has not been tested.”

“The problem with using computer simulations is that they are only as good as the data that are used to construct them. We do not fully understand our own genome.”

What do you think about the idea of a “virtual twin”? Read the entire article, and then let us know by leaving a comment below.