Sofia Viana, researcher and professor at the University of Coimbra, believes that ceasing to use animals to carry out experiments for therapeutic purposes “is not yet a viable measure in the coming years”. However, she argues that it is possible to avoid their suffering during scientific tests — and to prove it, she developed, together with other elements of the Clinical and Biomedical Research Institutes (ICBR) and Polytechnic of Coimbra, the Happinessa semi-solid matrix technology, in this case, medicated gums, currently pending patent.
At the moment, what happens in the laboratories that opt for oral administration in the scientific tests is the following: the scientists put a probe from the mouth to the esophagus of the animal to guarantee that it receives the sufficient dose of the substance necessary for the experiment. This invasive mechanism generates stress and can cause damage. So if, instead of this tube, the researchers chose to give them an oral medication, as is the case with HaPILLness gummies, the suffering would end.
“Animals are not aware of the task they have to perform and they don’t do it voluntarily because they don’t know the purpose for which it is intended. We have to ensure that [as substâncias] are dosed, that this dosing is accurate, and combine all this with our commitment to the legislation that regulates animal experimentation, which always aims at well-being”, begins by explaining Sofia Viana in an interview with P3.
The project wants to change the future and, taking into account that “there is no product on the market with the same characteristics”, it may succeed in doing so. It is also true that administering a pill to an animal is not easy, given that they tend to reject them or show reluctance to ingest them when the taste is unpleasant. However, these gums, “developed with a flavor, texture and odor compatible with the preference of the animals”, can also solve this problem. “Animals find the odor that is familiar to them, associate it with a positive experience and have an instinct to consume them to feed themselves”, explains Sofia Viana.
The main researcher of the project also guarantees that these gums do not carry risks and that the advantages are multiplied. Among them is the fact that the matrix is empty, which means that substances can then be added to treat various types of diseases, including metabolic, gastrointestinal or nervous system. Just incorporate the substance into the gum and give it to the animal. “We already dose antidepressants, food supplements or silver compounds that are used in the food industry”, she points out.
As the gums have only been tested on rats and mice, it is still not possible to guarantee that domestic and farm animals will also accept consuming them, but the team is confident.
Affordable gummies for everyone
The idea began to be thought of in 2019 and, since then, “between 35 and 45 thousand euros” have been spent on financing. Most of these values were achieved through international and national awards. In total, the team, currently made up of seven people, has already participated in four competitions, three of which are Portuguese. The Portuguese Society of Neurology (SPN) gave them a grant of ten thousand euros and the first edition of the contest Região de Coimbra Empreende+ earned them a grant of 1200 euros, which they will receive for six months.
Sofia Viana, a researcher in the areas of pulmonology and experimental therapy, explains that this half year is intended to “convert the prototype into a product”, so that, within two years, it can be offered for sale on the national and international market and used by scientists , veterinarians and animal tutors.
“We are initiating contacts with the Directorate-General for Food and Veterinarywhich regulates the licensing of these products, so that we can understand which establishments are licensed to sell them”, he justifies, adding that they are normally for sale in veterinary clinics, parapharmacies or in websites.
The team is waiting for the European patent, which should not arrive in less than a year, so it has been focusing on creating partnerships to start testing the gums on other animals and, at the same time, “building funding applications” for this to be possible. possible.
Still under development, is the preparation of the gums to include the medicine prescribed by the veterinarian, a process that appears to be “simple”. As for the price, it is also too early to anticipate a figure, but it is safe to say that it will depend on the duration of the treatment.
Although sectors such as cosmetics have stopped using animals for experiments, it is not possible to adopt this measure in all areas of research – this is the case of pharmacological and toxicological tests. Even so, the researcher assures, “working with animal experimentation 20 years ago was completely different from what it is today”, taking into account that there is a compromise between what scientists want to measure and the well-being of animals.
“What is in perspective is a reduction in the number of animals allocated to these experiments, always based on the fact that there is a scientific evolution that allows the existence of other platforms that do not use animals, for example, organoids”, he concludes.