So, unless you’ve been living in a cave without wi-fi you’ll probably have heard that the European Union has be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The EU also celebrated last week when Professor Serge Haroche, the recipient of a European Research Council (ERC) grant, picked up the Nobel Prize for Physics. Europe plans to increase ERC funding from €7.5 billion to €13 billion from 2012 to help “the very best researchers to conduct pioneering research across Europe”.
As European governments begin implementing EU rules on the use of animals in research, new figures reveal that the UK – a leading player in medical science – used more lab animals last year than at any time in the past three decades.
Some 3.8 million procedures were carried out on animals including dogs, cats, mice and monkeys last year, according to press reports.
The numbers are less important than the trend. The total figure is the highest since 1981.
A couple of months ago we had the privilege to go to Paris and interview Professor Jean-Claude Nouët, Honorary President and cofounder of the Ligue Francaise des Droits de l'Animal, éthique et science (LFDA).
During our two hours discussion, Professor Nouët touched on different aspects of the use of animals in scientific research, including alternatives and the 3Rs. We will be publishing parts of the interview over the coming weeks, however looking at your comments and questions over the past months, we thought the following topic was a good one to start with.
Like many people who do what I do, I’d quite like to become redundant. That is, I’d be content if my current job were made obsolete by advances in science.
Heart disease, stroke, many cancers, asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, cataracts, and many more are what the World Health Organisation calls non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or non-contagious diseases. NCDs may be chronic diseases of long duration and slow progression, or they may result in more rapid death such as some types of sudden stroke.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has awarded two grants totalling almost £900,000, to Brunel University’s Professor Robert Newbold and Swansea University’s Professor Gareth Jenkins, funds that are to be implemented in fundamental research to develop new testing methods, based on human-cell structures, for cancer-causing chemicals, a move that aims to reduce the number of animals used in tests in the years ahead.
Advances in science will present some people with new dilemmas. What if new research methods mean more primate-based studies but using fewer animals overall?
The latest trends in biopharmaceuticals will make it possible to develop fragments of antibodies – some of which can be used as new therapies – without using as many mice or rats as would have been required in the past.
The early stages of research can be done using large volumes of cell samples and with the help of computer modelling, so we essentially skip the animal-intensive phase of early research where large numbers of potential therapies would previously have been tested on rodents.
That’s how Usher Syndrome, a rare untreatable genetic disease leading to deaf blindness, first became a part of our lives. You can imagine the emotional rollercoaster, taking us from feeling a sense of shock and injustice to the struggle of dealing with an ‘unacceptable’ situation.
Professor Claus-Michael Lehr, a drug development scientist at the Helmholtz-Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS), believes new methods using cell culture instead of rats and mice will help deliver medicines more efficiently.
The idea of using new nanotechnology breakthroughs to reduce the use of animals in laboratories has caught the imagination of European researchers.
Nanotechnology is a broad field focused on the study of things of a very small scale, and scientists hope these tiniest of techniques might add to the arsenal of non-animal research methods.
Insisting that animals be used only when the results of experiments have guaranteed benefits for human health is to misunderstand science, even to undermine the drive for scientific knowledge.
Science is rarely as certain or a simple as some expect. It is never possible to know for sure how new knowledge will be used.
Unnecessary animal tests are replaced by alternative testing methods at Danish pharmaceutical company
It has taken ten years for a dedicated company task force to get rid of all redundant product control tests in living animals or to replace them with other methods of testing. Working in close collaboration with regulatory authorities around the world, the task force has replaced all obsolete tests at Novo Nordisk using live animals. The alternative testing method, the use of animal cells rather than living animals, had first to prove its efficacy before being approved by regulators.
That was 1796. More than 200 years later smallpox has been eradicated and deaths caused by infectious diseases like diphtheria, tetanus and polio have been slashed. The benefits for humans have been immense but this progress has come at the cost of literally millions of animals.
It won’t be long now until the annual European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA) conference which takes place on 9 November here in Brussels.
The EPAA is an independent platform which brings together the European Commission and industry groups to collaborate on implementing the 3 Rs Declaration. It has been running since 2005 and has done a lot to bring together people who don’t talk as much as they should – like companies and regulators, or scientists and EU officials.
This week sees the start of World Retina Week from 19 – 24 September. Campaigns are being launched across the globe to raise awareness of retina-related diseases causing blinding and the need for more research funding.