What Is Animal Testing? | Facts | Pros & Cons | Alternatives

Animal experimentation has been the topic of argument, and many people believe that it is unethical but it is necessary to find the cure of diseases and save lives of both human and animals. Many cosmetics you use are made from animal testing. Want to know more? Just give this article a read.

Category: Pets     Written By: Madiha Jamal

What Is Animal Testing? | Facts | Pros & Cons | Alternatives

Animals are suffering as a result of testing in a wide range of areas, including biological research, testing chemicals, medicines, and even cosmetics. But these studies have contributed a lot to medical breakthroughs and help us live a healthier life.

You might have heard about animal testing but perhaps you are still unsure of exactly what is involved in the process. There are many terms used for the process like animal testing, animal experimentation, or animal research, whatever you call it, it refers to the experimentation that has been carried out on animals for decades.

Animal testing has been used in scientific research, drug development, health, and medical research and cosmetics manufacturing. About 85% of experiments are conducted on rats and mice only. Because animals have similar physiology to human, scientists use them in their research to gain a better understanding of how the human body will react to certain substances.

However, animal testing can be debated on many grounds of both moral and ethical reasons, it doesn’t deny the fact that it is currently happening. While medical researchers take it as a necessary practice, many animal activists call it unethical because it involves the suffering and torture of Animals.

Here I am going to discuss animal testing, why animals are used in research, the pros and cons of the procedure, and the alternatives, based on proper analysis and research.

Let’s delve more into it and get to know everything about animal testing.

What is animal testing?

It is a process in which a living animal undergoes on testing that causes them suffering, pain, or lasting harm for research. To evaluate the safety and effectiveness of medication, cosmetics, or understanding how the human body works or find the cure of diseases scientists perform animal testing.

Why animals are used in research?

Well, this is the broad topic to discuss, many people ask the question of why do scientist use animals in their research, they are not even similar to humans. That’s correct, animals are not identical to humans, but there are some biological as well as psychological similarities between humans and animals.

We share about 98.4% of our DNA with chimpanzees, a Veterinary surgeon Dr. Andre Menache said that.

When asked from Dr. Simon Festing, in an interview at understanding animal research, he said that,

“There are notable similarities between animals and humans; we share about 90% of our genes with a mouse, and many of our major biological systems. The digestive system and cardiovascular system of animals work the same way as humans.”

It is evident that animals do suffer from scientific experiments, but suffering is mild and temporary. They suffer to save the lives of humans. They have a short life span so they can easily be studied throughout their whole life-span or across several generations. That’s why they make a good research subject and scientists prefer to use animals as a part of medical research before implementing any cure.

Here are some reasons to further elaborate on the use of animals in research.

  • To improve scientific research

About 31.1% of animals are used for basic scientific research, and 11.9% in translational and applied research. Scientist uses sick animals to find a cure for a disease because animals get similar diseases to humans. In the study, they use different methods to find a treatment for certain conditions.

We share the same basic cell processes and vital functions like hearing, breathing, digestion, sight, and reproduction with animals. To find the treatment of a specific disease, doctors and scientists must need to figure out how healthy body works. This investigation leads to an understanding of what happens to the body when we fall ill and how the illness can be a cure.

For example, to understand Multiple sclerosis (MS), scientists moderately paralyze the animal, which will wear off after the experiment. The researcher then watches the animal see how the disease affects its movements around the cage.

To understand the function of neurons researchers gains knowledge from the giant squid axon. Scientists then further apply the information obtained from the research to higher animals and humans to gain a better understanding.

Animals are often subjected to simulate human psychological disorders in specific psychological research. Scientists use animals to seek the answer to questions regarding human behavior like addiction, pain, food deprivation and maternal separation.

  • As models to study disease

You share the same genes to a mouse than you might think! I am not saying that research says that. Today, scientists use animal models to study genetic diseases. These include mice, flies, worms, rodent, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and many others.

Animal models are of the preferable to research diseases because of their similarity to humans in terms of anatomy, genetics, and physiology.

A majority of genetic studies, especially those involving disease, have employed on mice, not only because of the genetic similarity, but also because of their availability, high reproductive rates, ease of handling, and are cost-effective to use.

Rabbits are used to study atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), emphysema, and congenital disabilities (birth defects) like spina bifida. Dogs can be used to research about cancer, diabetes, cataracts, ulcers and bleeding disorders such as hemophilia.

  • To find the potential forms of treatment

Animal science have contributed a lot to medical revolutions. Today, scientists have found the treatment of many diseases and infections, like cancer treatment, managing heart disease, brain disorders, and prevention of genetic disorders in babies, arthritis, polio vaccine, and transplantation.

About 70% of the Nobel prizes for physiology or medicine have concerned with animal research. Many award-winning scientists said that they could not have made their discoveries without animals.

Researchers use animals in their experiments to learn more about a particular disease, and then find the cure after performing specific tests. In this way, they discover new therapeutic techniques and apply surgical procedures on animals before implementing it on human patients.

  • To perform safety checks

Before introducing any new medicine or prescription drugs, it requires a safety check to measure both the beneficial and the harmful effects of a compound on a whole organism. Scientists use an animal model before clinical trials in humans. About 23.7% of animal testing is used for safety checks, quality controls or toxicological tests under the legislation on medicines, chemicals, drugs, and food hygiene. 

Who performs animal testing?

Who performs animal testing

It is no news that biomedical researchers primarily perform animal testing. But it is also used in many places around the world. Here I am sharing some areas in which animal testing is being performed.

  • In Universities for teaching

Many medical schools and universities are at the forefront of research and use animal testing to better understand the anatomy of the human body, disease prevention, and treatment. Apart from performing animal testing, medical schools also support animal testing alternatives whenever they feel it an appropriate option.

  • Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Companies

The pharmaceutical industry has conducted significant animal research to find the next breakthrough drug. Drugs are an essential tool in healthcare and use in therapies after experimental evaluation.

Any new drug requires rigorous pharmaceutical testing to ensure its safety, and before performing any human clinical trials, drugs need preliminary testing on animals.

The researchers in the pharmaceutical industry use animals to understand how the drugs are metabolized and how effective they are to various body systems and what are the risk factors associated with it.

  • Military Defense Establishments

You might be thinking of how military defense establishments perform animal testing? Let me tell you; perhaps you don’t know that animal testing occurs quite regularly in Army, Navy and Air force. Military researchers perform animal testing for the following purposes.

  • To develop weapons and defensive tactics by using animals. They evaluate the effectiveness and promote the treatment to prevent and successfully handle the consequences of any virus attack.
  • For wound testing where the researchers examine how various weapons create wounds and how they heal.
  • To advance the surgical techniques and gain better patient outcomes following combat.

However, with the evolution of technology, there is a reduction in the use of animals in military testing. According to the Defense Health Agency, a new bill has passed and it would replace the military trauma drills on animals with more effective human simulation models in the coming days. This bill has got the support from The New York Times editorial board and other veterans’ organizations.

What animal species are used in the testing?

More than 100 million animals are protected under the federal law of animal testing every year, and licenses are needed to perform experiments on these animals.

Mostly mice make up more than half of the animal testing because they are genetically modified. Larger animals like dogs, monkeys, and guinea pigs, account for less than 2% of the animals used in research. However, Chimpanzees, gorillas, and orang-utans have not been used in the medical examination for over 25 years in the United Kingdom.

Several other animals used in the testing are rats, frogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, fish, birds, insects and tiny worms like nematodes. 


Federal laws and agencies involved with animal testing

Before performing animal testing, you must need to know about the laws involved in protecting laboratory animals. Everyone who conducts animal testing must ensure compliance with these laws.

  • Animal welfare Act

Animal Welfare Act Association

It is a federal law in the United States that addresses the standard of care animals get at the respective research facilities. It monitors the treatment of animals in the exhibition, research, transport, and by dealers and is enforced by APHIS, USDA, and Animal Care.

  • Public health Service

Public health Service

The Public Health Service, or PHS, supervises the two federal agencies that perform the most testing on animals. These include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The PHS has a policy formulating the utilization and care of the vertebrate animal in testing, research, and training to conduct the study under the laws and give written sponsor procedures that involve the use of vertebrate animals.

  • United States Department of Agriculture, USDA

United States Department of Agriculture, USDA

It is a federal agency responsible for managing and inspecting laboratories that perform animal experimentation, and those who breed and sell them to laboratory use. The USDA also deals with those involved in the exhibition and dealing of animals like zoos, commercial dog breeders, circuses and more.

  • Other regulatory bodies

Some other regulatory bodies imply to protect the animals used in laboratories. These include,

  • AAALAC, a private, nonprofit organization that supports the humane treatment of animals in research through assessment programs and voluntary accreditation.
  • IACUC is a valuable resource for institutional animal care, and its purpose is to review and approve protocols involving animals and to ensure compliance.

Facts about Animal Testing

 There are lot of confusion and controversies in animal testing regarding its monitoring, practices, and implementation. Conflicting opinions and exaggerated information will lead to confusion, so it is better to examine animal testing facts to better understand its different aspects.

  • There is a drop of 17% in animal experimentation as reported in the statistics of scientific procedures on living animals.
  • Less than 10% of animals are used in biomedical research.
  • In the UK, rats are mostly used for testing purposes.
  • About 26 million of animals are used for research in the United States, 95% of which are rodents, birds, and fish.
  • About 92% of experimental drugs that are effective and safe in animals fail in human clinical trials.
  • Chimpanzees are more prone to deadly viruses like HIV, Hepatitis, and common malaria which can be life-threatening to humans and performing tests on them to find the cure is not logical.
  • Only the United States and Gabon allow experimentation on chimpanzees.
  • The US national institute of health spends $14 billion annually on animal research.
  • About 95% of animals used in tests are not protected by the federal animal welfare act (AWA).
  • According to the California Biomedical Research Association, nearly every medical breakthrough occurred in the last 100 years has resulted directly from animal experimentation.
  • Drugs that are now used to prevent HIV/AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s, malaria, and hepatitis would not have been possible without research with primates.
  • USA, China, Japan, Australia, Canada, France, UK, Germany, and Brazil, are the top 9 animal testing countries in the world.
  • Of the 1.86 million animal experimentation, about 60% (1.12 million experiments) were in the area of basic research.
  • About 90% of animals that are used in U.S. labs for testing are not officially counted in the statistics of animals tested.
  • Europe, Israel, and India have already banned animal testing for cosmetics, and refuse to sell or import the newly animal-tested beauty products.
  • Many cosmetic tests are mainly performed on rats, mice, rabbits, fish, and guinea pigs to check skin and eye irritation while rubbing the chemicals on the skin or dripping them into eyes without any pain relief.
  • About 50% of universities and medical schools, 26% commercial organizations, 16% Government, NHS, & public bodies, and 8% of non-profit groups undertake animal research.
  • About 82% of non-toxic procedures on animal testing are done in Britain.
  • The hospitals that perform animal testing are Northwick Park Hospital, Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, Bristol Royal Infirmary, and North London Guy`s & St Thomas`s Hospital, London.
  • U.K has been banned from the testing of cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients on animals since 1998.
  • Scientist figured out that worms and fish are ideal models for epilepsy.

Facts about animal testing

Pros and Cons of Animal Testing

Animal testing has some potential benefits and some adverse effects. To know better about it, let’s dive deeper into the Pros and cons of the animal testing.

Pros and Cons of Animal Testing

Pros of Animal Testing

It is no news that animal testing has contributed a lot to advance scientific research and promote healthier lives. Following are some benefits of animal testing that you should know

  • Have contributed to outrageous scientific findings

Extraordinary achievements have been committed in the areas of physiology and medicine in the last 100 years using animal experimentation. A physiologist Emil von Behring won the first Nobel Prize in 1901 for his work on the treatment of diphtheria by injecting low doses of diphtheria toxin in rats, mice, and rabbits that triggered the formation of antibodies.

Several experiments have been performed on animals that led to the cure of many diseases like Insulin was discovered to save the lives of people with diabetes by removing the pancreas of dogs.  The Polio vaccine has reduced the global occurrence of the disease.

Animal testing has also contributed to advances in understanding and treating significant conditions like brain injury, breast cancer, childhood leukemia, malaria, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease, and many others.

  • Helps Save the lives of people

Many living pieces of evidence proves the benefit of animal testing in finding the cure for diseases. That’s why animal testing is considered vital for improving human health. Some individuals support animal testing for medicine and the development of new drugs for the disease.

Cancer sufferer, Caroline Richmond said that,

She was among the first people who undergoes monoclonal antibody therapy which was first tested on mice in 1990. She says that she would not be alive today without animal research.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferer, Diane Gracey said, 

She has got a vast interest in animal testing finding a cure for MS. Animal research is essential for Aids, Alzheimer’s, motor-neuron syndrome, and cancer. She supports research.

  • Best simulate to human’s physiology

Animals are much similar to human physiology and have the same numerous vital functions. They can be the ideal model to experiment and check the vulnerability of the disease. With related organs, circulatory systems, and reactions to illness, researchers can look at how animals react and can make a comfortable prediction about how humans might respond. If one assumes that human life is more valuable than animal life, then performing experiments on animals makes sense.

  • Testing results are beneficial for animals as well

Many people say that animal testing is cruel, scientists kill animals for themselves. But it is not true. Animal testing is useful for both animals and humans. Some animals suffer and die to save the lives of millions. Millions of animals would have been killed from distemper, rabies, feline leukemia, infectious hepatitis virus, tetanus, and many other diseases if vaccines were not tested on animals.

  • Scientists can quickly examine a complete lifecycle

Animals have shorter life spans than humans; this can make them a better subject for research. For example, mice live for two to three years only, so researchers can quickly gauge the effects of treatments or genetic manipulation of a specific disease across several generations or all over a whole lifespan. Using human subjects for this research would be infeasible.

  • Generates new treatments and benefits society

Animal research leads to several medical breakthroughs and benefits society by promoting healthier lives. It holds promise for additional advancement in diagnoses, treatments, and cures. For example, if mice were not used for testing, the breakthrough breast cancer medication Herceptin (cancer-fighting drug) was not being introduced and saved lives. Even the artificial heart would not have been possible if the device was not tested on animals.

  • Relatively few animals are used in research, as compared to food for humans

How often do you eat chicken or pig? Twice a week or thrice? Or maybe more than it. When we examine the animal testing statistics to animals used for eating, the food industry will win the race. Every year, people in the United States eat 150 million pigs, cattle, and sheep, and 9 billion chickens. While around 26 million animals used for research, and 95% of which are birds, rodents, and fish. With consideration of medical advancement, it is a small price to pay.

  • Animals have a proper structure of cells

Animals have a complete arrangement of cells that talk to each other, and it cannot be found in any computer model. Scientists can easily watch out the visible, microscopic, and biochemical changes within mice that would be impossible to do in a living human being or a tissue cartridge.

  • Computer model is not ideal to study the human physiology

Many people don’t understand animal research; they claim that why don’t scientists use the computer models or why don’t they use the petri dish? You can’t make a computer to cough or put a beating heart in a test tube. You need a living organism to learn about the essential functions. The problem with computer models is that they have the model settings to have understood the process before you can use the computer to understand further. Apart from the evolution of technology, we still need animals to understand the natural processes inside a living being.

  • Your dog could be the reason to cure cancer in the future

Cancer is the life-threatening disease, and it is the one platform where the collaboration between vets and doctors could benefit both sides. Dogs can be the best models to find the cancer treatments of the future. Some forms of cancer are the same in dogs and humans and using them as a model; scientists can learn about aggressive bone cancers in humans and develop effective and safer treatments for both species. For example, Limb-sparing surgery in dogs with osteosarcoma (bone cancer found in dogs) had a significant impact on human cancer patients, giving children with osteosarcoma the chance to keep the limb in which the tumor was located.

Cons of animal testing

Animal research can be cruel and harmful for animals, and sometimes animals die during the procedure. Here are some disadvantages of animal research.

  • Some items that are tested, never used by humans

Animals undergo harsh procedures and suffers to benefit the society, but some items experimented will never be used, or people will never even know that the product was being developed. It means that animals will likely be sacrificing their lives to determine the safety of a product. With no direct societal benefit produced, then what’s the point of the testing and harming the animals?

  • Animals face inhumane Treatment in the process

There are certain kinds of research in which animals face bad treatment or what you can describe it as torture. The Humane Society International reported that for experimentation, animals are routinely deprived of food and water, force-fed, forced to inhale noxious compounds, or physically restrained for prolonged periods. In 2010, U.S. Department of Agriculture stated that approximately 100,000 animals suffered pain during tests without anesthesia.

  • All the experiments that generate positive results for animals are not applicable to humans

The biggest argument against animal research is the lack of applicability. Sometimes the results of tests done on other species cannot be reliably inferred to humans, and it is merely a waste of scientific energy and resources. Robin Lovell-Badge, a cell biologist in the MRC National Institute for Medical Research says that, 94% of drugs that showed positive results in animals failed in people.

  • Animals and humans are never precisely the same

They say that humans and animals share the same DNA but there is a minor difference in that, and this difference is considerable. The response of a drug in an animal`s body is entirely different as compared to the response in a human body. People believe that animal research is unreliable in testing the effectiveness of drugs in animals. Animals dwell in an unnatural environment, and they do not experience stress like humans. Therefore, they will not react to the drugs exactly as humans. This argument further weakens the authenticity of animal research.

  • Many facilities do not follow animal welfare laws

Animal welfare laws cover only about 4% of the animals that are involved in experiments. And above 20 million animals are at high risk of abuse or neglect in the name of research. Even when the facilities comply with the law, some self-appointed committees govern them, and only a direct inspection of the facility can help them know the ongoing issues.

  • Specific animal experiments may mislead researchers

Not all tests that provide potential benefit to humans are useful for animals. Some chemicals are ineffective or deadly to animals, which found suitable for humans. For example, Aspirin is dangerous for some animals and effective for humans. Dozens of promising drugs get shelved because they cause problems in animals and may not be relevant for humans.

  • Can be expensive

Humane Society International compared several animal experiments with their in-vitro counterparts. They found that the animal tests were costlier than the alternative method in almost every case studied. More than 7.3 million dollars of taxpayers` money was wasted on animal experimentation in 2016, stated in Senator Jeff Flake`s "Wastebook" of government funding. PETA foundation also known as Foundation to support animal protection estimated that about 56.4 million dollars of government funds spent on animal experiments, which failed to provide any useful results.

  • Plenty of animal lives are wasted

Most of the animals used in biomedical research are killed during and after experiments, and many suffer during the studies. The lives of animals are routinely sacrificed for poor analysis. A peer review conducted in 2009 in U. K and U. S and serious flaws were found in the experiments using rodents. This lack of hypothesis in the experimental results cause animals to die without finding any proper cure.

  • Often used for non-life saving products

Today, some non-life saving products are frequently tested on animals that do not even guarantee safety for humans. These include shampoo, pesticides, chemicals, and cosmetics. All of these items are not essential for saving lives, yet animals are still in danger in the testing process. Some beauty brands and other household products manufacturing companies are still using animals to test the products.

  • Healthy animals made sick for the purpose of study several diseases

Animals do not suffer from diseases of civilization which accused by man’s unhealthy lifestyle. Consequently, each tested animal must be made ill. For example, diabetes in animals is caused by destroying the cells of the pancreas with poison, and heart attacks are caused by the constriction of the coronary arteries, while rats are made through electric shocks to make them feel desperate to study depression. However, there is a large number of purpose made animals who have been bred in a way to suffer from certain diseases and conditions. 

What are the alternatives to animal testing?

Alternatives to Animal Testing

It’s time to move beyond the tests from the last century to the science of the 21st century. Now scientists are uncovering the cause of human illness from human cells, genes, and vital organs. Science without suffering and progress without pain is the new thing in biomedical researches. Several pieces of research have been made to find alternatives to animal testing. These alternative methods are time efficient, requires less man power, and cost effective.

Here I am sharing some of them,

Computer (in-silico) modeling

Computers can help to understand the various basic principles of biology. Now, researchers have developed a great range of sophisticated computer models. These models simulate human biology and help in figuring out the progression of developing diseases and software programs help to design new medicines.

Computer modeling technique can help in predicting the biological and toxic effects of certain chemicals or drugs a person could have without animal dissection. A software called Computer Aided Drug Design (CADD) is used to find the receptor binding site for a potential drug molecule and thus avoids testing of unwanted chemicals. It also helps to develop a new drug for the specific binding site.

Another favorite computer-based technique is the Quantitative Structure Activity Relationship (QSAR). It is used to predict the biological activity of a drug on a candidate in the presence of chemical moieties attached to the parent compound.

A study conducted by the Computational Cardiovascular Science team stated that human computer models of heart cells give more accurate results than animal experiments to predict the side effects of drug-induction on human hearts. This research won an international prize because of its potential to replace animal testing in labs.

These techniques can predict the ways how new drugs will react in the human body accurately, and replace the animals in exploratory research and other drug tests.

In-vitro techniques

Significantly higher rates were found on animal models while checking the effectiveness of drugs. Thus, the pharmaceutical industry has invented a better model to predict the human situation on inducing drugs. Then, in-vitro technique was introduced.

Dr. Phil Stephens has pioneered in an in-vitro test for ulcer treatments says that,

“There are numerous animal models out there to treat the wounds, but they are not effective for these wounds. So, we developed an in vitro system.”

What is in-vitro testing?

It is a process of studying biological properties in a test tube, cell culture flask, or petri dish, rather than in a human or animal. It includes a vast range of cell and tissue culture techniques, as well as cell-free methods.

The test uses human blood cells to detect contaminants in drugs that cause a potentially dangerous fever response while entering into the body.

A chip named “organs-on-chips” has invented at Harvard’s Wyss Institute that contain human cells grown in a system to simulate the structure and functions of human organs. The chips is the replacement of animals in disease research, drug testing, and toxicity testing. It shows human physiology, drug responses, and diseases more accurately than crude animal tests.

in-vitro testing


Micro-dosing is another breakthrough in biological research. The technique is used to measure how small doses of new medicines revolve around the body. Now it is possible to use micro-dosing in humans and study the effectiveness of new compounds while reducing the numbers of animals used in the research.

Micro-dosing has some limitations like it cannot predict the side effects occurs at higher ‘therapeutic’ doses.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technique

FMRI is an advanced brain imaging and recording technique in which human volunteers can be used to replace old experiments in which monkeys, rats, and cats, have their brains damaged. This advanced technique allows the safe study of the human brain down to the level of a single neuron. With this technique, researchers can temporarily induce brain disorders by using transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Non-animal tests to ensure the safety of cosmetic products

The New York times have mentioned the new ways to test products. In this new technique, human tissues can be used in place of mice, dogs or other lab animals to test cosmetics, new drugs, and other products.

After the ban of testing cosmetic products and their ingredients on animals, companies are now making cosmetics in a cruelty-free way by using natural ingredients or the ingredients that are already known to be safe.

They are using non-animal tests to generate new data. There are above 40 non-animal tests that have been validated for use, offer more relevant results, cheap and efficient. A number of skin tests are now available that use human reconstructed skin, like EpiDerm, and the "3T3 NRU" test for sunlight-induced phototoxicity.

But despite the legislation of Cruelty-Free Cosmetic Act, It is your responsibility to research and identify the brands that steer clear of animal testing and shop for cruelty-free products and avoid those who do use them. 

stop animal testing

If animal testing is banned, could medical community cope with this?

Any ban on the use of animals in research would be disastrous to the biomedical research. It is evident that animals do suffer in the research, but the suffering is mild and temporary. However, many aspects of biology can be studied using in-vitro models and computer, and they are becoming increasingly informative, but these methods are not currently sufficiently advanced to replicate the intricate workings of a whole human organism. If there would be any ban in the use of animals in the experimental procedures medical community would not be able to find the cure of diseases in the future. And society will suffer.

Professor Stephen Hawking said in Seriously Ill for Medical Research in 1996,

“Computers can do extraordinary things. But even the most potent computer can’t replace animal testing in medical research.”

stop animal testing

The Final Verdict

Animal experimentation has been the topic of argument, and many people believe that it is unethical because animals do have rights. Many pieces of research have been conducted to find the potential benefits, disadvantages, and alternatives of the method but on the whole, no such thing can exactly replace the animal testing. The alternative techniques can reduce permanent harm but to predict the final result; scientists use animals. It is also true that not all animal experiments are acceptable, but those performed by medical facilities to find a cure and save lives can be acceptable.

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