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WC11 Virtual Congress in review

The 11th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences was hosted from the city of Maastricht, Netherlands this summer and ran as a virtual conference online from 23 August to the 2 September 2021.

FRAME attended the virtual event, which attracted a range of organisations in the field including NC3Rs, HSI, RSPCA and NORECOPA.

The overall theme of the scientific programme for 2021 was the ‘3Rs in transition: from development to application.’ Jos Kleinjans, Professor of Environmental Health Science at the University of Maastricht, and one of the Congress Chairs explained the reasoning: “This has been inspired by the observation that in the last decade, tremendous progress has been made in a wide range of technologies (e.g. stem cells, organ-on-a-chip, genomics, micro-engineering) – all supportive for realising non-animal test models of the highest grade, and boosting scientific research in the 3Rs, and in particular replacement, to a yet unmet level, whilst acceptance of such new generation models by the various application domains is still quite low. We aim to explore this seeming discrepancy, not only in the field of chemical safety testing, but also in vaccine development, and certainly also in creating relevant human disease models.”

Within this theme, there were four secondary areas of focus which all sessions and presentations centered on. These were Innovative technologies; Disease; Ethics; Welfare and Regulation, and Safety. Over the 9 days of the congress there were a wide variety of live presentations, discussion panels, keynote speakers, live TV broadcast, talk show segments and poster sessions. There were nine keynote lectures, with highlights including:

  • Dr Donald Ingber, the founding director of the Wyss Institute, discussing advances in organ-on-chip technologies
  • Malcom Macleod, Professor of Neurology and Translational Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh, speaking about improving data quality in translational research
  • Dr Anna Deplazes Zemp from the University of Zurich, talking about ethical issues associated with the development and implementation of alternative, non-animal research approaches such as the use of organoids and organ-on-chips.

Across the congress, there were multiple opportunities to attend sessions on issues and areas of research with parallel programmes running on the same day. A variety of topics was covered from all areas of research and testing including chemical safety assessment, drug development, disease research, environmental risk assessment, food safety, cosmetic and agrochemical regulatory requirements for safety assessment.

A high proportion of sessions addressed the issue of validating New Approach Methods (NAMs) for chemical risk assessment and how to build confidence in Next Generation Risk Assessment (NGRA) methods. NGRA are hypothesis-led, human relevant approaches that assess the safety of chemicals through a mixture of NAMS, such as in vitro testing of cell lines or organoids, combined with computational modelling techniques, with a focus on preventing harm. These sessions were particularly pertinent as we know that these regulatory tests, required by legislation to assess the toxicity of chemicals or drugs, are the area where we are closest to replacing animal research, with some animal tests becoming obsolete as answers can be provided using non-animal approaches. The congress provided a great platform for experts in the field to update and share their work and thoughts not only with their peers, but with a wider audience.

The programme addressed various aspects of promoting and increasing the uptake of NAMs, such as global harmonisation of safety testing, the role of 3Rs networks, updates on biobanking and tissue sharing platforms, the use of systematic reviews and meta-analysis, and the roles of journals and animal welfare bodies. There were interesting sessions on overarching issues with animal research today, such as increasing transparency or reproducibility and addressing the replacement of Foetal Bovine Serum (FBS) in cell culture media. There were updates and summaries of the current progress in NAMs including micro-physiological (organ-on-chip) systems, computer modelling and the use of artificial intelligence. Within the diverse programme, many biological systems and disease areas were covered such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, the central nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and drug-induced liver injury.

There was also a plethora of opportunities to hear more about aspects of current animal research practices such as refinement, rehoming, severe suffering, promoting a ‘culture of care’ and many sessions addressing the use of the 3Rs across different disciplines with a strong focus on education and training.

The event was attended online by FRAME CEO Celean Camp and Education and Outreach Manger Amy Beale, both of whom had posters accepted for the event. Amy was also invited to present her poster, titled: ‘Is it possible to stem the tide of GA animal use in biomedical research’ at the pre-poster warm up event. In her poster, Amy looked at the high numbers of scientific procedures associated with the popular use of genetically altered animals in research today, the areas where these animals are being used and the steps that could be taken to understand how we can reduce this. Celean also presented her poster under the ‘Ethics, Welfare and Regulation’ theme sharing a systems view of current research practices as an approach for facilitating change, in her poster: ‘Accelerating the uptake of non-animal methods in bioscience. Research system dynamics and individual responsibility.’

Commenting on the event, Amy said: “I enjoyed many of the presentations and discussions at the WC11 Congress, particularly those addressing the bigger issues of animal research. It was useful to hear from those working to improve transparency at ground level so we can consider how FRAME can best support this. I was pleased to see many sessions focussing on the topical issue of updating of regulatory requirements for chemical safety assessment and calls to share knowledge of Next Generation Risk Assessment approaches to help build that confidence in them. Ultimately, those in the industry can provide the evidence to pressure regulators to make changes that will allow increased flexibility in data requirements to encourage more widespread adoption of the modern ‘protection not prediction’ approach to safety assessment.”

You can watch the sessions on the use of the 3Rs COVID-19 research here.

NORECOPA is Norway’s National Consensus Platform for the advancement of ‘the 3Rs’ (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) in connection with animal experiments.

Check out NORECOPA’s useful sessions here:

  • NORECOPA: A hub of international resources (recordingand slides)
  • Are we Car Salesmen, Boy Scouts or Airline Pilots? Preparing for robust and humane research (recording and slides)
  • A Refinement Wiki (recording and slides)
  • Is wildlife research “second-rate science”? What can lab animal and field scientists learn from one another? (recording and slides)

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