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/