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A look back at recent biomedical breakthroughs thanks to animal research

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 sclerosis research, 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, Belgiumwon 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.”

Switzerland’s 2017 animal research statistics indicate fewer animals used

The latest figures released by the Swiss Federal Veterinary Office (BLV) show a decrease in the overall use of animals in biomedical research in the Switzerland’s public and private institutions.

These statistics for 2017 are made available in compliance with Swiss law and demonstrate the continuing commitment of the Swiss biomedical sector to openness and transparency about animal research, combined with an ongoing commitment to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals for every project, commonly known as the 3Rs.

In particular, the figures show a reduction in the number of mice used and a 19% increase in the number of fish used. Within the overall biomedical sector, three categories – disease diagnosis, education and training, and environmental, including human and veterinary protection – show a significant increase in procedures carried out using animals. There was a decrease in the use of animals in the basic research and discovery, development and quality control categories. Continue reading