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Vol. LXIV, No. 1
January 6, 2012

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Workshop Explores Improvements in Rabies Vaccine Testing

NIEHS scientists Dr. William Stokes and Dr. Warren Casey joined other scientists from around the world recently at the International Workshop on Alternative Methods for Human and Veterinary Rabies Vaccine Testing: State of the Science and Planning the Way Forward. More than 70 scientists from 14 countries, representing government, industry and academia, attended the workshop.

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NIEHS’s Dr. William Stokes


Participants reviewed new testing methods that may provide improved accuracy and efficiency and developed recommendations to validate and implement their use. The new methods are also expected to further reduce, refine, by lessening or eliminating pain and distress, and eventually replace the use of animals for potency testing of human and veterinary rabies vaccines.

Rabies is a deadly disease that kills more than 70,000 people worldwide each year; vaccines are the most important resources available for prevention of rabies infections. In the U.S. and other developed countries, widespread use of veterinary rabies vaccines protects pets and wildlife from disease. This practice significantly reduces the risk to humans in these countries from exposure to infected wildlife and domestic animals. For those estimated 15 million people each year exposed to the rabies virus, post-exposure human rabies vaccination prevents disease and saves lives.

The current methods used to evaluate the effectiveness of each production lot of veterinary and human rabies vaccine involves vaccinating animals and then challenging them with the live rabies virus. This approach requires large numbers of laboratory animals and causes significant animal pain and distress. A workshop organized last year by the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) and the interagency coordinating committee on the validation of alternative methods identified rabies vaccines as one of the highest priorities for research, development and validation of alternative test methods for potency and safety testing.

“Promising new approaches to rabies vaccine testing are now available that are more humane and use fewer or no animals. The technology exists to put those approaches into practice now or in the near future,” said Stokes, who is director of NICEATM. “These approaches are faster, cheaper and more accurate. They’re also safer for laboratory workers as they don’t require handling of live rabies virus.”

A workshop report will be published early this year in the journal Biologicals.

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