2.2. Historical background

Of note is the fact that although many of the basic elements of the models and methods presently used as alternatives were known decades ago, it was not until the eighties that scientific and social interest in favor of alternative trials become tangible. Possibly, the meeting held in Soesterberg (the Netherlands) on July 4-5, 1980 (International Workshop on the Application of Tissue Culture in Toxicology - first of the INVITOX series) constituted the first of a long series of scientific events and meets in which cellular models came to be accepted as possible valuable tools for an improved understanding of phenomena previously only studied in laboratory animals. Twenty years later, what may have seemed a passing fashion or even a case of scientific esotericism, has become firmly consolidated as a reality.

 It was in these years when scientific circles began to generate initiatives in more or less structured form to establish groups of scientists interested in alternatives to animal experimentation. In 1991 the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) was created by the John Hopkins University in Boston. This represented the first historical example of an organization dedicated to the development and promotion of alternative methodologies.

 In Europe, a group of scientists from different countries have come to form a body of opinion serving as the first catalyzer of interest in developing alternative methods: the European Research Group on Alternatives to Toxicity Testing (ERGATT). Since its creation, and despite the lack of specific resources and the development of concrete research, the recommendations of the ERGATT have been an obliged reference point for the successive steps adopted in the development of in vitro methods and their validation in the European setting.

At the other end of the world, movements similar to those found in Europe and America have also developed - crystallizing in 1987 with the foundation of the Japanese Society for Alternatives to Animal Experimentation (JSAAE). Parallel initiatives have continued to arise in Europe - some on a national scale (United Kingdom, France), and others encompassing neighboring countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland) or the global European context (INVITOX since 1980, and ESTIV since 1996) - with the aim of promoting the research and use of alternative methodologies.

 At the same time, the state of opinion generated on the topic has caused the political class to become aware of the problem. Specifically, the European Union has instructed the preparation of different memorandums (J.M. Boeynaesn, 1984. In vitro methods for the screening of drug activity; S. Garatini and F. Spreafico, 1984. Feasibility of pharmacological testing in vitro; J. Ryan and B. McSweeney, 1986. The development and use of in vitro toxicity tests in Europe; M. Roberfroid and G. Krack, 1984. Feasibility of in vitro toxicity testing). Their recommendations are reflected in the adoption of specific scientific and legal actions destined to secure the gradual restriction of animal use and its replacement by alternative techniques. In this sense, Directive 86/609/CEE represents the first of a series of steps for the scientific development of these methods in the setting of the European Union. Specific actions in this sense are those contemplated in the third and fourth Reference Program, and the above mentioned creation of a Community Research Institution in Ispra (ECVAM) - which has been assigned the task of "coordinating the validation of alternative methods at community level... and promoting their acknowledgment and application".