Dying for change: A roadmap to refine the fish acute toxicity test after 40 years of applying a lethal endpoint
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The fish acute toxicity test (TG203; OECD, 2019) is frequently used and highly embedded in hazard and risk assessment globally. The test estimates the concentration of a chemical that kills 50% of the fish (LC50) over a 96 h exposure and is considered one of the most severe scientific procedures undertaken. Over the years, discussions at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have resulted in changes to the test which reduce the number of fish used, as well as the development of a (potential) replacement test (TG236, OECD, 2013). However, refinement of the mortality endpoint with an earlier (moribundity) endpoint was not considered feasible during the Test Guideline's (TG) last update in 2019. Several stakeholders met at a UK-based workshop to discuss how TG203 can be refined, and identified two key opportunities to reduce fish suffering: (1) application of clinical signs that predict mortality and (2) shortening the test duration. However, several aspects need to be addressed before these refinements can be adopted. TG203 has required recording of major categories of sublethal clinical signs since its conception, with the option to record more detailed signs introduced in the 2019 update. However, in the absence of guidance, differences in identification, recording and reporting of clinical signs between technicians and laboratories is likely to have generated piecemeal data of varying quality. Harmonisation of reporting templates, and training in clinical sign recognition and recording are needed to standardise clinical sign data. This is critical to enable robust data-driven detection of clinical signs that predict mortality. Discussions suggested that the 96 h duration of TG203 cannot stand up to scientific scrutiny. Feedback and data from UK contract research organisations (CROs) conducting the test were that a substantial proportion of mortalities occur in the first 24 h. Refinement of TG203 by shortening the test duration would reduce suffering (and test failure rate) but requires a mechanism to correct new results to previous 96 h LC50 data. The actions needed to implement both refinement opportunities are summarised here within a roadmap. A shift in regulatory assessment, where the 96 h LC50 is a familiar base for decisions, will also be critical.
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