On 28 and 29 June, Animal Free Research (AFR) held its 2022 conference on ‘Modernising Medical Research’, a welcome return to ‘in person’ events following the COVID-19 pandemic and several members of the Safer Medicines Trust team attended over both days.
The event had a very positive atmosphere, with the aim of exchanging knowledge and ideas in the transition towards modern, human relevant medical research to benefit public health. This aligns with the objective of the Safer Medicines Trust that patient safety can and must be improved by utilising better science.
Day one provided a series of talks from experts across many areas of research, for example on advances in in vitro technologies such as 3D organoids (‘mini organs’) or ‘Organ on a Chip’ models (also called microphysiological systems, or MPS). As shown in the image above, these are small devices lined with microchannels containing human cells, fluids and tissues which can test responses to drugs or monitor the progress of disease, to provide better prediction of the human response than conventionally used (animal) methods. A keynote speaker was Dr. Don Ingber, the founding director of the Wyss Institute at Harvard University who pioneered MPS technology with the ‘Lung On A Chip’, first developed in 2010. Exciting advances in this technology over the last decade have resulted in many more models such as brain, liver and even the beating heart, ultimately working towards a ‘human on a chip’ to revolutionise drug discovery and disease research. Dr Ingber was also presented with an ‘Animal Free Research Pioneer’ Award.
Other talks presented human relevant methods that could be used to study brain tumours, liver disease and colorectal cancer and how such methods provide better translation from ‘bench to bedside’ when compared to animal models. One speaker for example, highlighted how the results of chemotherapy found in mice translate to humans less than 10% of the time. The importance of use of human tissue removed during surgery (which would otherwise be discarded) was also discussed.
Speakers also showcased their in silico research, which can very broadly be defined as ‘computer based’ methods, but includes a vast range of techniques from simpler drug screening analyses to complex ‘deep learning’ and artificial intelligence approaches, for example advanced computer simulations to investigate cardiac arrest and in silico analysis to examine the genetic traits of chronic diseases.
The methods described above are just a few examples of what are also collectively termed ’New Approach Methodologies’, or NAMs. A common barrier to the use of NAMs is the misperception that any one technique is expected to replace a corresponding animal method. This has never been the case. Instead, combinations of many techniques, for example in silico, in vitro and data from studies in humans can be combined to provide human relevant answers to research questions, where animal models often fail or do not even exist. This important issue (among others) was discussed at day two of the AFR conference, which was a ’round table’ event, bringing together scientists, campaigners and lobbyists to discuss how to effectively communicate to the research industry, regulators, political audiences and the public on the need to modernise scientific research by shifting to NAMs and ‘human relevant science for humans’. The need for change is already recognised by many in industry. For example, the in vitro toxicology testing market was valued at 8.3 billion US dollars in 2019 and is projected to be worth over 18 billion US dollars by 2027.
Safer Medicines Trust and AFR are founder members of the Alliance for Human Relevant Science, a collaboration of companies, charities and organisations launched in 2017 to accelerate awareness and use of human relevant approaches within industry and the scientific research community.
For more info on the Alliance for Human Relevant Science visit www.humanrelevantscience.org
For more info on the ‘Modernising Medical Research’ event visit Science Conference – Animal Free Research UK
3-minute highlights video now available: http://www.animalfreeresearchuk.org/scienceconference-2022/
A new paper by Safer Medicines scientific consultant Rebecca Ram, Dr. Domenico Gadaleta of the Mario Negri Institute, Italy and Dr. Tim Allen of the MRC Toxicology Unit, Cambridge discusses the progress of in-silico methods in New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) as well as the increasing need for use of ‘big data’ and artificial intelligence (AI) approaches in safety testing and biomedical research.
In silico, or computer-based research methods continue to emerge as part of a robust 21st century public health strategy, vital to improving the efficiency of preclinical drug discovery, as well as safety testing in the chemicals industry. They can be used alongside other methods e.g., human-based in vitro (cell or tissue derived) models as components of human-relevant New Approach Methodologies (NAMs).
Despite resisting scientific scrutiny for decades, animal studies have, over the last twenty years, been revealed by systematic reviews to be poorly conducted and unreliable, with the result that humans have, on occasion, been seriously harmed. Such troubling exposures have prompted several initiatives to improve the quality of animal studies and their reporting, but these have had little impact so far on improving their translation to humans. Could it be that fundamental differences between species constitute an insurmountable problem for biomedical research? Given that transformative human relevant technologies such as organ-chips and organoids are now available, could now be the time for a new paradigm?
March 22: The All Party Parliamentary Group for Human Relevant Science launches their report in Parliament, entitled: BRINGING BACK THE HUMAN: TRANSITIONING FROM ANIMAL RESEARCH TO HUMAN RELEVANT SCIENCE IN THE UK. MPs say human relevant science is essential to medical progress, and make recommendations including the creation of a dedicated ministerial-level post to ‘lead an ambitious and detailed programme of work’ cutting across Government to drive the UK’s transition to human relevant science.
Evidence given to the APPG stressed that now is the time for government leadership to put the human first and modernise medical research.
It emerged during the inquiry that ‘funding for human relevant technologies represents just 0.02% of the total public expenditure on research and development.’ The group is therefore urging the Government to increase the funding of human relevant approaches by strategically diverting resources away from traditional animal-based approaches which have a high failure rate and directing funding to transformative human relevant technologies.
Read the report and/or a separate brief summary here:
The problem Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a leading cause of death in the UK and along with other dementias, is responsible for almost 11% of all deaths in England.1 More than 209,000 new cases are diagnosed each year across the UK.2 It remains a leading cause of death and disability worldwide3, affecting nearly 50 million […]New paper discusses in silico New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) and increasing use of ‘big data’ to advance human relevant research
A new paper by Safer Medicines scientific consultant Rebecca Ram, Dr. Domenico Gadaleta of the Mario Negri Institute, Italy and Dr. Tim Allen of the MRC Toxicology Unit, Cambridge discusses the progress of in-silico methods in New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) as well as the increasing need for use of ‘big data’ and artificial intelligence (AI) […]