In our research labs we use genetically altered animals, usually mice, to test scientific theories which we hope will one day lead to new medicines and treatments. In terms of my own work, we create mice with trisomy, which means they have an extra copy of a certain chromosome. In humans, trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down syndrome, is probably the most well-known of these conditions.
The goal is to find ways of alleviating the symptoms of these conditions. We look at how trisomy changes neurological mechanisms and how it influences embryonic development, stem cells, and the programming and function of cells. We identify and target these mechanisms and hope to treat them through therapeutic drugs. These mechanisms are often similar to those affecting humans with comparable conditions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Human skin grown in a lab, computer simulations, and new approaches to vaccine quality control. These are just some of the new ideas which experts say could reduce the number of animals used in developing, approving and producing medicines.
What if I told you that these technologies already exist and the trick now is to pull them together, apply them and have them accepted by authorities? Well, it’s true.
Following last month’s post, We want new medicines but at what cost?, I thought we should follow up with an expert view on life for patients suffering from rare and genetic diseases.
We caught up with Nick Meade, from the Genetic Alliance UK, while he was in Brussels. We asked Nick why expensive research is carried out to develop cures for rare diseases affecting only a very small proportion of society.
Given my interest in issues around animal testing, these timely reminders of the burden of disease got me thinking about the contribution that research has made to human health.
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.
The cameraman and I were pretty surprised when Professor Peter Janssen greeted us at Leuven university hospital reception. We were expecting someone… well we weren’t expecting Peter. On one hand he’s a relaxed straight-talking family man, on the other he has already published a long list of neurological research alongside some heavy-duty medical qualifications and awards.
There has been some buzz online recently at the new funding raising strategy of the British Heart Foundation. As it attempts to raise an ambitious 50m pounds to fund groundbreaking heart research, it is openly showing the need for animal research and testing in its promotional campaign.