One blood donation saves 500 rabbits

Sanquin developed a lab test based on immune cells from donor blood. The test checks whether medicines are free of fever-inducing contaminations, without the use of laboratory animals.

Injectable medicines, such as vaccines and insulin, are always tested immediately after production for contaminants that cause fever. Worldwide, 400,000 rabbits a year are used for this test, which unfortunately have to die afterwards.

Fever in a petri dish

Sanquin, responsible for the blood supply in the Netherlands, has developed a laboratory test as an alternative to the rabbit test. This test, the Monocyte Activation Test (MAT), imitates the fever-inducing immune reaction optimally. "You measure fever in a petri dish", says project leader Eelo Gitz. "The laboratory test uses a specific human immune cell, the monocyte. This becomes activated when the drug contains a fever-inducing contaminant. The MAT therefore detects fever agents without animals. In fact, the MAT makes the drug a little safer because it measures a human immune reaction, rather than that of a rabbit. That's not exactly the same thing."

One donation saves 500 rabbits

The immune cells for the MAT are extracted from donor blood. The donors are specifically called upon for this purpose. They donate early in the morning, and on the same day Sanquin purifies the monocytes from the donation and prepares them for the test. Each donation used for this purpose saves about 500 rabbit lives.

Bringing disciplines together

Gitz: "In addition to the Blood Bank, Sanquin has Research, Diagnostics and Reagents divisions. All this expertise together, within one organization, is crucial for the development, execution and availability of the test". With the establishment of MAT Kits & Services, Sanquin is an important player on the international market for this type of testing. In this way we contribute both to the safer testing of medicines and to the reduction of the use of laboratory animals in the world.

There is a growing need for the MAT. Since 2017, pharmacists have been obliged to check whether the MAT is suitable for new medicines, or for existing medicines for which the production process has changed. Sanquin performs this test as a service for various clients, but can also supply the test as a test kit.

Media attention

The news about the lab test based on immune cells from donated blood has received a lot of media attention. In English, NL times reported about the news, as well as several Dutch media such as RTL news (from 2:50 minutes), Radio 1, Radio 10, several newspapers, and Hart van Nederland.

More information can be found on the website of MAT Kits & Services.