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Moth larvae 'cuts number of mammals needed for animal tests by up to 80%'

The number of mammals used in animal testing could be cut dramatically thanks to moth larvae, scientists say.

Larvae from the wax moth Galleria mellonella can be used for tests that would usually be conducted on mammals, such as mice.

Last year, two scientists from the University of Exeter founded BioSystems Technology, which provides moth larvae to researchers.

Co-founders Dr Olivia Champion and Professor Richard Titball have now been granted £24,000 to assess the larvae, said to be cheap and effective.

"Scientists using our model have been able to reduce their use of mammals by up to 80%," Dr Champion said.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (the NC3Rs) has awarded a grant of £12,000.

This will support a partnership with contract research organisation Envigo to assess whether the larvae can reduce the number of mammals used for testing the toxicity of chemicals.

Any new chemical must be tested for toxicity and the standard approach is to use mammals such as mice, rats or rabbits.

Biosystems Technology's larvae, sold under the brand name TruLarv, offer a low-cost alternative which allows tests to be done faster and with fewer ethical concerns.

"If the study with Envigo is positive, Envigo will start offering that form of testing to their clients in industry," Dr Champion added.

"We don't have the full results yet, but what we've seen so far looks very promising."

A separate £12,000 grant from CRACK IT Solutions will support a partnership with antibiotic discovery company Demuris.

This will be used to see whether the larvae are a fast and effective way to test leads in the search for new antibiotics.

Demuris has a large and unique collection of actinomycete bacteria, thought to produce completely novel antibacterial drugs.

"These samples are a promising area in the search for new antibiotics, but there are thousands of them and many have never been checked before," said Dr Champion.

"Using our larvae at an early stage could help identify promising leads and make sure ineffective or toxic samples are not progressed for testing in mammals."

Scientists have been using wax moth larvae for the past five years but there was no way to get reliable specimens until BioSystems Technology, she added.

"People were literally buying these larvae from fishing bait shops," Dr Champion said.

"Even scientists from the top research institutions here and abroad were doing this, and the inconsistency of those larvae introduced unacceptable levels of variability into results."

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