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The Science Blog

07/04/2014

UK universities – it’s time to focus on alternatives

Over the last decade, the proportion of animals used by universities in the UK has doubled and now accounts for 48% of all animal experiments. It is time to start pushing for a dramatic change in the type of research conducted at our universities in order to drive this number down. Several university scientists are already leading the way with pioneering research that could replace animals.

Researchers at the University of Cardiff are using cells from donated human cadavers to grow “micro-lungs”. From just one donation, 400 mini lungs, each about 6mm in diameter, can be grown for only £2000. The model can be used by pharmaceutical companies to test new drugs for lung disorders, such as asthma, and also by cosmetic companies to test the safety of aerosols, such as deodorant and hairspray2. Dr Kelly BéRubé, lead researcher, says: “Why use an animal lung when a human one will do?

Scientists at Royal Holloway University are using single-celled amoebas to study human neurological diseases including Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. The tiny organisms have aided in the development of new epileptic drugs and in the understanding of how these drugs are actually able to block seizures in the brain3. More recently, the model has been used to identify key proteins and genes that lead to Alzheimer’s disease in humans4. Both areas of research have already been investigated in a variety of animal models with little success. Professor Robin Williams, lead researcher, said “Our work provides a new approach, helping us to reduce reliance on animals and provide potential major improvements in human health.”

Finally, researchers at Plymouth University have developed a “virtual fish” that could reduce the number of live animals used in environmental safety tests5. The model was created by extracting cells from dead fish and coaxing them to grow into 3D spheres that behave in a similar way to whole animal tissues. These structures are capable of lasting much longer than traditional 2D cell cultures and can be used in tests to investigate the harmful effects a chemical might have on the environment without causing suffering to live fish.

 

Sources:

1.        ‘Micro-lungs’ could bring an end to animal testing, say Cardiff University bioscientists. (2011). Wales Online: http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/micro-lungs-could-bring-end-animal-1797039

2.        “Human lung” model developed to replace animal testing. (2013). Cosmetics Design Europe: http://www.cosmeticsdesign-europe.com/Formulation-Science/Human-lung-model-developed-to-replace-animal-testing

3.        Discovery offers new treatment for epilepsy. (2012). RHUL: http://www.rhul.ac.uk/aboutus/newsandevents/news/newsarticles/discoveryoffersnewtreatmentforepilepsy.aspx

4.        How a simple amoeba helped scientists better understand the complexities of Alzheimer’s. (2014). Medical Daily: http://www.medicaldaily.com/how-simple-amoeba-helped-scientists-better-understand-complexities-alzheimers-267903

Virtual fish will save the lives of millions of lab animals. (2014). Plymouth Herald: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/Virtual-fish-save-lives-millions-lab-animals/story-20800210-detail/story.html

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