New tools for future research

In biomedical research, one controversial tool is the use of animals, the ethics of which is much questioned, as is their ability to truly reflect the human body. Instead of or in addition to animal research, scientists are developing mini lab organs, organoids and “organs-on-a-chip” that allow for more direct, realistic experimentation; using iPS cells that are reprogrammed to return them to nearly the same state they started off at in an embryo; and working with mathematical models to create a “virtual human” that can be studied directly on a computer. At the same time, for example, mice modified gene by gene are studied to identify functions not yet known.

To debate these advances, some of the top international experts met for a session of B·Debate, an initiative of Biocat and the “la Caixa” Foundation to promote scientific debate.


  1. Citizens’ initiatives are working to prohibit the use of animals in research. However, the European Commission says this isn't currently possible and establishes a series of recommendations to rationalize use.
  2. Scientists are working to develop new tools for more reliable research, these include stem cells, organoids and even “organs-on-a-chip”.
  3. Projects like Virtual Physiological Human aim to study the human body using computer-generated mathematical models.
  4. In the meantime, it is still necessary to use animals. In this regard, large-scale projects have been launched to improve how they are used: for example, identifying the function of each of a mouse’s 20,000 genes, extrapolating them and comparing them to human genes.