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.
On the eve of Biomedical Research Awaerness Day (BRAD 18 April), EARA looks back at some of the important medical advances over the last year that have involved research using animals.
Among the breakthroughs reported,
that benefit both humans and animals, are:
Research using mice led to many new breakthroughs, such as multiple sclerosisresearch, at the University of Cambridge and to fight chronic pain using synthetic Botox at University College London, UK.
In surgical research on sheep at Lund University, Sweden, freeze-dried valves – later rehydrated for transplantation – were used in animal heart surgery for first time.
A team from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), Madrid, Spain, succeeded in curing pulmonary fibrosis disease in mice using a gene therapy.
In Belgium, researchers at EARA members VIB, KU Leuven and UZ Leuven used mice to develop new antibacterial drugs.
Building on a technique developed in rats, Swiss researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, in Lausanne, have announced that stimulating a person’s spinal cord can restore voluntary movement in some paralysed patients (see picture).
Scientists are also developing new biomedical treatments and
techniques that replace, refine or reduce (3Rs) the use of animals in research.
A team from the University of Oxford, UK, and EARA member Janssen Pharmaceutica, Belgium, won the International 3Rs Prize using a computer model that predicts accurately the risk of drug-induced heart arrhythmias in humans.
Animal research is integral to ongoing research in areas such as spinal cord repair, stem cell treatments (Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), gene therapy (muscular dystrophy, diabetes) and molecularly targeted cancer medicines. Historically, animal research has also led to new diagnostic tests for early treatment (cancer, heart disease); and effective treatments for serious illnesses (diabetes, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease).
The same research often helps humans and animals (treatments for arthritis, neurological disorders, organ transplants, cancer therapies) and contributes to farm animal welfare and techniques to save endangered species.
EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “Without the use of animals the pace of advances in biomedical research would be dramatically slower.
“Finding alternative methods to animal research, such as computer models and cell cultures are extremely important, but animal testing remains the safest and most effective way to produce drugs and treatments for us all.”
Germany’s Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (Bundesministerium für Ernährung und Landwirtschaft) has produced its 2016 annual statistics on animal research procedures for Germany. These statistics have seen some big changes from previous years and we will attempt to show comparisons according to the different methodologies used. Germany produces two sets of data as part of the Animal Protection Act.
7(2) – procedures on animals
4(3) – animals killed solely for tissues or organs without any prior procedures
A mouse procedure
Historically, Germany has used data from animals used under both §7(2) and §4(3) of the Animal Protection Act to create a dataset of animals used in research. This dataset was broken down by varying categories including use, severity, genetic status and more. This year, while the old totals can be seen, the main datasets are numbers of procedures on animals, excluding animals killed for tissues or organs (under §4(3)). This newer methodology puts Germany in line with the EU reporting requirements for animals in research – allowing for easier comparisons between countries.
In 2016, Germany reported 2,189,261 procedures on animals, up 7.1% from 2015. The number of animals is slightly lower at 2,131,448 (due to some animals being used in more than one procedure during 2016). Continue reading →
A group of young, ambitious Belgian scientists have had enough of standing by doing nothing while animal research is criticised in the media. This article by Liesbeth Aerts and Jeroen Aerts was translated from the original Dutch version published in De Standaard on 26 December 2016.
‘Sadists’, ‘bastards, ‘a gang of psychopaths’, ‘worse than Dutroux [serial killer and child molester]’ … a selection of the insults directed at animal researchers that appear each time the debate about animal research surfaces in the media. One day we are awarded with prizes for our research, the other day we are cursed, insulted or threatened.
As young ambitious researchers, we care deeply about our work and also about this controversial subject. The mixed feelings of the general public indicate there is still a lot of mystery about what really goes on behind the doors of a scientific laboratory.
Spokespersons and policy makers don’t seem to understand it very well either, and the people heading our research institutes are silent as usual. Since we are doing the actual animal experiments, we are the ones at the receiving end of all of these insults. We are told to keep our head down, for fear of reprisal; but we don’t want to stand by and do nothing while we are put on trial in the press and on social media. Continue reading →
Scientists at the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine have managed to 3D print structures made of living cells that were successfully implanted into animals, as reported in Nature Biotechnology on Monday.
Over the last 40 years, every Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine but one has depended on work using animals. From modern vaccines that protect us against polio, TB and meningitis, to the development of Tamoxifen that has led to a 30% fall in death rates from breast cancer, the role of research animals cannot be underestimated.
Earlier this month Britain become the first country in the world to permit mitochondrial donation to be used in treatment and help prevent serious genetic diseases. The procedure, which allows IVF babies to be created using donor mitochondrial DNA, has the potential to help some 2,500 mother in the UK alone. Many are not only concerned with the ethics, but on how safe the procedure actually is. Previous research has used mice and rhesus monkeys, but are these animals a good indicator of human reproductive biology?