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Accelerating the take-up of alternatives

On World Day for Laboratory Animals 2021, FRAME asks how we can accelerate the move towards alternatives and more valid and reliable human-based methods and announces the launch of its Impetus Project which will gather insights and views from researchers to help inform future action.

“How can we make the biggest difference to advancing the replacement of animals in biomedical research?  What is most needed?” As a charity with a challenging mission and a responsibility to our donors, this is a question we ask ourselves regularly. How can we make the biggest strides towards our vision of a world in which human-based methods, and not animals, are first choice for human biology, disease and drug research? And what we realised is that we honestly don’t know.

We know that there were 3.4 million scientific procedures carried out on live animals in Great Britain in 2019. Of these, experimental procedures accounted for over half of all procedures (1.73 million) with the remaining (1.72 million) being undertaken for the creation and breeding of genetically altered (GA) animals. Of the experimental procedures, the lion’s share (984,000) were used in basic research (understanding living systems and disease processes), primarily focusing on the immune system, nervous system, and cancer. We know the top animal-using institutions, and if we expand our view beyond the borders of the UK we know that in many countries animals are still used for testing cosmetics and their ingredients when safe and valid alternatives exist.

We know that, despite animal research regulations requiring the implementation of non-animal methods over animal research, this does not always happen. We know there are cell culture methods and computer-based tools that have the potential to replace aspects of animal studies now or in the future. Anecdotally, we know that researchers sometimes find it difficult to identify and implement non-animal methods and report that in some cases, like reproductive toxicity, such methods simply do not exist.  But what does knowing all this tell us about where we should focus our efforts?

The job of work to achieve our vision is huge, and one of the positives about the field in recent years has been the growth in the number of individuals and organisations working on aspects of the issue.  3Rs centres exist in many countries and work diligently to replace the use of animals in research where possible. Researchers are constantly developing, trialling and validating new human-based methods and models. There are many, many areas that need work and projects that need carrying out, and lots of these are being tackled.  However, there is very little coordination or overview of how much progress is actually being made towards an animal-free biomedical research system, and whether, in amongst the hive of activity, there are areas that are being overlooked, particularly in basic biological and medical research which are not governed by guidelines in the same way as regulatory testing of chemicals and medicines. Are there research areas where a combination of available alternatives could, with a joined-up approach and collaboration, replace animals today? In areas where animal research remains necessary as there are no viable alternatives on the horizon, what is needed that would bring replacement one step closer?

Impetus Project

That is why on this World Day for Laboratory Animals 2021, FRAME is launching its Impetus Project.  This project will seek views from researchers working in academia and industry, from funders, and third sector organisations and anyone with expert knowledge of animal and non-animal methods (or New Approach Methods, NAMs) on two key questions:

  1. What are the areas of basic or applied research where complete replacement of animals is possible within the next 5-10 years?
  2. What are the areas of research where there is currently little or no prospect of being able to replace animal models?

This information will allow us to identify where the most impact could be made towards the replacement of animals in the short and long term, by concerted effort.

FRAME’s work has always been guided and informed by those directly working in the field, so it makes sense, to throw these critical questions out as widely as possible, rather than sit around a board table or consult only those with whom we are in contact. Once the responses are in, we will compile this into a report with recommendations for future action. We will then work with others to develop working groups to draw up and take forward roadmaps for change in selected, actionable areas. We need as many views as possible to inform this work so please look out for the initial survey on our website and in our newsletter. If you would like more information on the project or to be further involved then please contact Jessie Hellier (jessie@frame.org.uk).

Together, we can help to provide the critical information and guidance to inform funders and research teams, and accelerate the move towards more valid and reliable human-based methods. And maybe one day our grandkids will live in a world that doesn’t need a World Day for Laboratory Animals at all.

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