EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, looks at the remarkable progress in biomedical research in the search for a cure for Ebola virus which has devastated parts of central Africa in the last year.
This week, marking the first anniversary of
the most recent Ebola outbreak, scientists running a clinical trial of new
drugs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have announced a dramatic
increase in survival rates.
such as the DRC, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, Ebola is a serious health
emergency. They are among the poorest countries in the world, only recently
emerging from years of civil war and unrest that has left basic health
infrastructures severely damaged or ruined. Living conditions are often
restricted and unclean, water supplies are limited, medical treatment is
scarce, and trust in officialdom, pretty much non-existent.
underdevelopment and the attendant problem of political dysfunction have
created a situation in which a virus like Ebola can flourish. Since 2014 a
total of 28,616 cases of Ebola and 11,310 deaths were reported in Guinea,
Liberia, and Sierra Leone. This is what is driving research into finding a way
to halt the spread of the disease
Now, thanks in part to research involving mice and non-human primates the sponsors of the current clinical trial in DRC have announced a real breakthrough. While an experimental vaccine that was proven to be effective in monkeys had previously been shown to shield people from catching Ebola, this new development marks a first for people who have already been infected.
EARA member Ellegaard Göttingen Minipigs has marked 50 years of the company at its Scientific Symposium, in London, UK, which also looked at future biomedical research uses for its animal model.
After Lars Friis Mikkelsen (pictured), CEO of Ellegaard, opened the Symposium, a series of lectures explained the growth of the company and its long-term collaboration with the University of Göttingen, which originally bred the minipig, and examined the ways that the animal is used in toxicology testing.
Peter Vestbjerg of Ellegaard, explained that the Göttingen Minipigs is a good non-rodent model due to the adaptability of the minipig and its well managed genetics.
Examples of how minipigs are being used to test toxicity on compounds under development for Alzheimer’s and for anti-cancer drug development were given by Joanna Harding of AstraZeneca, and Sally-Anne Reynolds of Sequani, respectively.
From the University of Edinburgh, Michael Eddleston focused on translational medicine between animals and humans and how we can modulate human self-poisoning in Göttingen minipig models. “Pigs do save lives”, he said.
Henrik Duelund Pedersen of Ellegaard, concluded the symposium by listing the specific advantages of mini pigs in studies for dermal toxicity and reproduction among others.
The Spanish Society for Laboratory Animal Sciences (SECAL) used World Day for Laboratory Animals (24 April), as an opportunity to communicate on animal research.
EARA Member SECAL, created a video (in Spanish) with examples on the benefits of the biomedical animal research.
The message in the video “La experimentación animal da vida” (Animal research gives life) was repeated by board members of SECAL.
Research institutions from Spain and Latin America (including EARA Spanish Twitter) shared the video on social media with the hashtag #LaExperimentaciónAnimaldaVida.
Sergi Vila of SECAL, said the video as “a very positive initiative”, especially on the eve of the general election in Spain, where the Animalist Party (PACMA) has called for the ending of animal research.
In an article in National Geographic, Khara Ramos, of the U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, asked if “the development and application of new neuro-technologies may require us to examine ethical standards, and for those standards to evolve”.
In The Guardian, ethical questions such as ‘How do we delimit consciousness in a brain removed from the body?’; ‘Is it possible to speak about consciousness in an isolated brain?’ were also raised.
Portuguese TV news has highlighted the use of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as an animal research model at the labs of the Champalimaud Foundation
The institution, also an EARA members, is based in Lisbon, Portugal. and uses fruit flies in six of the 19 research groups to study cancer and neurosciences.
In the TV item (in Portuguese), Maria Luísa Vasconcelos, the Principal Investigator of Innate Behaviour Research Group, explained why the fruit fly is the ideal model to study innate behaviours: “We can work with very large numbers of animals because they are tiny and easy to keep”.
Platform is the facility that offers conditions for breeding,
maintenance and manipulation, supporting scientists in establishing, applying
and developing advanced genetic approaches.
The researchers explained that besides the size of the organism there are other advantages in using flies as a model. For example, the lower ethical and legal questions, the short generation time and the sophisticated tools available to manipulate the genome.
A guide on how to develop and implement a communications strategy on the use of animals in research has been published by the European Animal Research Association (EARA).
A free hard copy of the EARA Communications Handbook (in English only, cover price €375), along with an encrypted electronic version has been distributed exclusively to EARA member organisations.
The Handbook is intended to be shared with in-house research and communications professionals and includes a step-by-step guide to developing a long-term communications strategy and other advice on actions you can take to encourage a more balanced public debate on the issue of animal research.
There is also practical communications advice on how to handle those crisis situations that may occur.
EARA Communications Manager, Bob Tolliday, said: “We encourage all EARA institutions across Europe to implement the recommendations outlined in this manual and to engage with EARA for further support or advice.”
Organisations that are not EARA members can purchase the Handbook or arrange to discuss communications further by contacting Kirk Leech.
The Max Delbrück Center (MDC), an EARA member, welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she opened its new research building in Berlin.
The building hosts the Berlin Institute for Molecular Systems Biology (BIMSB), as a second MDC campus, committed to research excellence and openness.
It is anticipated that it will host 250 researchers and 16 labs in the near future (see video of the opening).
Setting the scene for different scientific disciplines – biotechnology, computational science, molecular biology, clinical research – BIMSB leader Professor Nikolaus Rajewsky (pictured second left) promised a ‘radical approach to collaboration’.
Chancellor Merkel viewed a ‘mini-brain’ (brain organoid) through a microscope and started a single-cell sequencing process with a computer.