By Lorenza Giannella, Training Manager, Biochemical Society
Biology Week this year was a succession of interesting and exciting events revealing complex issues in bioscience, such as antimicrobial resistance and genetic testing for cancer risk. I particularly enjoyed attending the TalkScience@BL panel discussion at the British Library on the use of animals in biomedical research, a topic engaging the scientific community from academia and industry, as well as the general public. The panel, chaired by Professor Stephen Holgate, University of Southampton, presented the principles of the 3Rs framework (Replace, Reduce, Refine) and provided interesting examples from their practice.
Professor Robin Williams, Royal Holloway, University of London, talked about two methods to replace animal testing, the use of primary human tissue and the use of social amoeba, which his group adopted to research various disorders, including epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease. He added that of course these models have limitations, however, the main issues encountered with alternative methods are difficulty in finding funding and acceptance from the global scientific community.
Reduce and Refine
Dr Sally Robinson, Head of Laboratory Animal Science (UK) at AstraZeneca, reminded the audience that drug discovery is a lengthy and expensive process, which does not always have a positive outcome. Pharmaceutical development includes animal testing and two excellent case studies were provided as example of how to reduce and refine the use of animals in research. Robinson led a review which found information from a certain animal test (single dose acute toxicity test) had no value when compared to the human system, which resulted in the test being eliminated and contributed to a decrease in animal use. She was also involved in another project in collaboration with the University of Stirling called Refining Dog Care that aims to improve the welfare of dogs used in research through procedural and environmental changes.
Openness, practicality of alternative methods and peer review
The last presenter, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, The Francis Crick Institute, London, talked about additional aspects involved in the 3Rs framework. He said that openness is fundamental for current research, because it advances knowledge, increasing participation and contribution of new ideas. It is also significant for the general public, as it can help them to feel more confident about sensitive issues and can lead to increased government support. Further alternative methods supporting the 3Rs were then reported, including development of animals containing human material or tissue engineering creating human structures from stem cells. The part I found surprising was the lack of acceptance from a substantial part of the scientific community. Lovell-Badge and other researchers told the audience how on some occasions their research articles were rejected by peer reviewers because of the lack of animal testing and non-acceptance of already developed alternative methods.
After the last talk, discussion flowed with many questions from the audience, which was composed of individuals from various backgrounds interested in many aspects of the 3Rs framework. Discussion points included computational models as alternative methods to animal testing, improvement of research quality and reproducibility and flexibility of legislations and policy. The event was a great success and was suitable for both a specialist and a general audience, which made the discussion more interesting and productive. It was a pleasure to attend and I’m looking forward to future development in this field.
The event was organised in collaboration with the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research and was part of Biology Week 2016. Biology week 2016 was organised by the Royal Society of Biology and ran from 7th to 15th October. Over 100 events took place around the UK during the week and the Biochemical Society co-organised a number of events. For example, the Policy Lates event: ‘Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance: what roles will regulation and innovation play?’, ‘The DNA revolution: can and should we predict people’s chance of getting cancer?’ and the Bioscience Career Festival. You can read more about the other events on the Royal Society of Biology website.