Animal Free Research UK: Helping to create kinder, more environmentally sustainable, and human-relevant science
By LifETIME CDT Student: Lauren Hope (University of Glasgow)
The vast majority – around 90% – of potential new therapies fail in clinical trials (1,2). One important reason for this is that animals, which legally must be used in preclinical testing, harbour numerous differences compared to humans that limit the translation of these test results from animals to humans. Therefore, one of the LifETIME CDT’s aims is to create new models which can more accurately predict drug successes before testing in humans. This approach towards animal testing was one of the aspects of the CDT that attracted me to it, as I believe we can develop much more human-relevant models that reduce or replace animal testing, therefore minimising animal and human harm. These approaches may also be more eco-friendly, as animal research uses a high level of resources such as energy and plastic, and as a result it negatively impacts our environment (3). However, there are still many barriers that limit the more widespread use of non-animal technologies in drug testing – therefore, I was interested in uncovering more information about these barriers, and investigating ways in which we could overcome them.
Animal Free Research UK (AFR UK) are a charity who hold views similar to mine, and fund scientific research which aims to replace the use of animals in research. I chose to work with them for multiple reasons: first, I believe in their cause and wanted to help; second, I was interested in learning more about working for a charity, to gain experience in a science-related job that was not lab-based. I was very excited to work with the Science Team which is headed by Dr Jarrod Bailey (my placement supervisor) and has many tasks including selecting which grants to fund, researching current literature in the field of non-animal technologies (NATs), and writing articles that promote the uptake of NATs and a shift away from animal research.
During my three-month placement, the aim was to investigate the main barriers which prevent researchers from using NATs, and produce a report highlighting these. First, I started by tracing the steps that researchers must go through to use animals in research; reading through Non-Technical Summaries submitted to the Home Office; and studying the law surrounding animals in drug and chemical testing. This helped me to identify what I felt were the main barriers, and therefore structure my review. The most important barriers appeared to be publication of NATs; the reduced level of funding compared to animal studies; and whether the results of humanised in vitro models would be as accurate compared to using animals. However, more and more scientific literature is being published that utilise NATs, including in high impact journals such as Science and Cell (1,2). And whilst there is less funding in NATs compared to animal research, many politicians are calling for more funding to be invested in NATs (6), and the market worth of 3D cell culture models is projected to increase (7), indicating a shift towards kinder, more human-relevant research. Finally, NATs show promise – animals have many differences compared to humans in areas such as genetics (8), immune system (9) and size, not to mention that the different environmental stressors the animals experience in a laboratory environment can adversely affect them (10). This results in variability between experiments. NATs which use human cells and replicate in vivo human environments may be more reproducible compared to animal models whilst mimicking the human body more accurately.
Working with Animal Free Research UK was an excellent experience. Not only was this a great opportunity to learn more about animal-free research, but it was interesting to learn about what happens behind the scenes at a charity organisation. Witnessing the interactions and collaborations between each department was excellent too – seeing how everyone works together to achieve one main goal. Additionally, my colleagues were genuinely kind and helpful, and it was such a privilege to work together.
- Sun D, Gao W, Hu H, Zhou S. Why 90% of clinical drug development fails and how to improve it? Acta Pharm Sin B. 2022 Jul 1;12(7):3049–62.
- Hay M, Thomas DW, Craighead JL, Economides C, Rosenthal J. Clinical development success rates for investigational drugs. Nat Biotechnol. 2014 Jan;32(1):40–51.
- Groff K, Bachli E, Lansdowne M, Capaldo T. Review of Evidence of Environmental Impacts of Animal Research and Testing. Environments. 2014 Sep;1(1):14–30.
- Ayuso JM, Rehman S, Virumbrales-Munoz M, McMinn PH, Geiger P, Fitzgerald C, et al. Microfluidic tumor-on-a-chip model to evaluate the role of tumor environmental stress on NK cell exhaustion. Sci Adv. 7(8):eabc2331.
- Cardillo AG, Castellanos MM, Desailly B, Dessoy S, Mariti M, Portela RMC, et al. Towards in silico Process Modeling for Vaccines. Trends Biotechnol. 2021 Nov 1;39(11):1120–30.
- Animal Testing – Hansard – UK Parliament [Internet]. [cited 2022 Feb 3]. Available from: https://hansard.parliament.uk//commons/2021-10-25/debates/486708F3-E5DE-4121-B9E0-F146AFF73031/AnimalTesting
- Global 3D Cell Culture Global Markets, 2021-2028 – Growing Focus Towards the Development of Personalized Medicine & Regenerative Medicine [Internet]. [cited 2022 Mar 15]. Available from: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/global-3d-cell-culture-global-111500944.html
- Perlman RL. Mouse models of human disease: An evolutionary perspective. Evol Med Public Health. 2016;2016(1):170–6.
- Mestas J, Hughes CCW. Of Mice and Not Men: Differences between Mouse and Human Immunology. J Immunol. 2004 Mar 1;172(5):2731–8.
- Chesler EJ, Wilson SG, Lariviere WR, Rodriguez-Zas SL, Mogil JS. Identification and ranking of genetic and laboratory environment factors influencing a behavioral trait, thermal nociception, via computational analysis of a large data archive. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2002 Dec 1;26(8):907–23.