Charité strengthens research on alternatives to animal testing
Animal testing is a common part of research on diseases. Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin is now supporting ten new projects, each pursuing one of three aims: using human tissue to develop alternative models, reducing the number of laboratory animals used, or improving conditions for lab animals. The projects align with the principle of the “3Rs”: replacing animal testing, reducing the number of animals used in research, and refining the conditions under which animals are kept to improve their welfare and reduce suffering. The projects are receiving a total of 1.3 million euros in funding, in most cases for a two-year term.
“Animal experimentation remains one of the key methods used in biomedical research at Charité,” says Professor Joachim Spranger, Dean of Charité. “For that reason, but also based on fundamental considerations relating to the lack of reproducibility of some experimental animal studies in human subjects, we at Charité feel a particular sense of duty to forge ahead with the search for new experimental methods and models and make every effort to improve animal testing where it is necessary and reduce and replace this testing wherever possible. The new research projects we have launched cut clear across the diverse research landscape involved in university medicine in Berlin and highlight the many different avenues and needs for further development of the 3Rs principles at Charité.”
“We will need very broad-based support initiatives and great staying power to develop new research methods that lead to better treatments for humans while at the same time potentially reducing animal testing,” says Professor Stefan Hippenstiel, Spokesperson for Charité 3R. “That’s why we’re delighted to be able to provide sustained support for some of the many research projects in this field and further reinforce this development.”
The ten projects receiving support were selected from a large number of applications in an independent scientific review process. The calls for tenders and the review process were coordinated by Charité 3R, a center that provides extensive support for the implementation of the 3Rs principle at Charité beyond the level required by law. The 3R research conducted at Charité goes beyond merely enhancing animal welfare, aiming to improve the translation of biomedical research findings to humans while also maximizing the animals’ wellbeing.
One of the new research projects in the area of reduction involves using “wildling” mice, for example. Conventional lab mice are generally kept in environments with few germs, while humans and animals living “in the wild” host a much more complex group of microorganisms. This microbiome plays an important role in health and the emergence of diseases. The researchers’ aim in the wildling project is to study whether lab mice with a natural microbiome are more suitable for investigating disease mechanisms and developing new treatments as compared to conventional lab mice. A broad spectrum of relevant diseases, including viral infections, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and stroke, will be studied to answer this question. The researchers expect that research on wildling mice will be an effective way to identify new treatments, thereby contributing to a long-term reduction in animal testing.
In the replacement segment, researchers are working to develop a model based on human cells in one new project with the aim of developing medications to treat a condition known as SynGAP1 Syndrome. This syndrome is caused by a rare genetic disease stemming from a mutation in a specific gene, the SynGAP1 gene. The mutation causes a severe neurological developmental disorder with intellectual disability, autistic traits, and seizures. The research team plans to develop mini brain organoids from human stem cells and use them to study the effects of the disruption the mutation causes in the transmission of signaling between neurons. The goal is to provide a system for testing potential medications to treat the syndrome while also reducing the number of animals needed to understand the mechanisms involved in this disease.
One project in the refinement segment aims to develop new concepts for keeping rats. The conditions under which animals used for experimentation are kept have a great influence on their welfare. Rats pose a special challenge due to their size and other factors. They also have distinct play and exploration behaviors and interact extensively with their social partners and humans. At the same time, researchers have a growing need for animals that are kept over a longer period, as age-related diseases are on the rise due to the aging of society. Meeting that need requires mature and older animal subjects. The applicants plan to trial various ways to modify cages so the animals have varied and individual options for activity and rest.
A description of all ten of the research projects receiving funding and further information on all of the funding lines are available on the Charité 3R website.
About Charité 3R
Charité 3R was founded at Charité in 2018 with the aim of actively supporting the 3Rs principle in biomedical research. The goal of this principle is to replace animal testing, reduce the number of animals used in research, and refine the conditions under which animals are kept to improve their welfare and reduce suffering. The vision of Charité 3R is to improve translational research and animal welfare at the same time through rigorous application of these principles. The team also hopes to better understand, diagnose, and treat human diseases by bringing about a cultural change in the field of biomedical research which embodies these principles. In all, 53 3R projects have received 6 million euros in funding via Charité 3R so far. The Einstein Center 3R was also created with the same aims in mind.
Dr. Julia Biederlack
Coordination Communication and Public Relations, Charité 3R
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400
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