This year’s award for replacement and complementary methods for animal experiments was awarded by the state Baden-Württemberg to Dr. Martina Berger from the research laboratory of Prof. Dr. Ulrich Stock, and Martina Zimmermann and Prof. Dr. Ulrich Lauer, all from the University Hospital of Tübingen. The prize includes € 25,000 in funding.
Dr. Martina Berger is a research associate in the research laboratory of the Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery Department at the University Hospital Tübingen led by Prof. Ulrich Stock, was honoured for the development of a simplified real-time pulse reactor for long-term in vitro testing of artificial heart valves. Until now heart valves have mostly been tested on sheep. As patients in need of a heart valve generally also suffer from high blood pressure, this condition is been artificially induced in sheep until now.
Price winner Dr. Martina Berger.
Image: Wolfgang Livaditis
The newly developed method makes it possible to test heart valves in vitro under similar conditions to those in the human body with variably definable normal or high blood pressure. The construction consists of a borosilicate chamber containing a blood-like solution, in which the heart valves are held within a special structure which moves vertically when under pressure. In the closed and controllable system, blood flow, blood pressure, pressure profile, heart frequency, temperature and viscosity can be simulated and altered. In addition, the heart valves can be tested under long-term conditions. All of this is documented with high-speed cameras, allowing further parameters to be recorded and evaluated.
Prof. Dr. med Ulrich Stock now works as senior physician and deputy medical director of the Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery at the Frankfurt University Hospital.
Die second recipients are Martina Zimmermann and Prof. Dr. med. Ulrich Lauer, director of the research group “Molecular Oncology” of the Department Internal Medicine I at the University Hospital Tübingen. They were honoured for their in vitro research on measles vaccines for treating hepatic cancer (so-called virotherapy). In their work they use human hepatic carcinoma tissues obtained from surgical operations. The human tumour tissue is cut into thin slices of 200 to 300 micrometers which are then cultivated.
From left to right: Price recipient Prof. Dr. Ulrich Lauer, Martina Zimmermann, Dep. Internal Medicine I at the University Hospital Tübingen, research group Molecular Oncology, and Alexander Bonde, Baden-Württemberg’s Minister for Rural Development and Consumer Protection.
Image: Wolfgang Livaditis.
After that the genetically modified measles viruses are introduced to the tissue slices and the penetration, propagation and destruction of the tumour cells is investigated. Virotherapeutic research, especially with measles viruses, is of particular significance, as other drugs are often ineffective in treating hepatic carcinomas and fraught with side effects. The measles virus is considered to be promising because it has been used in millions of vaccinations and is considered to be safe, as it does not attack healthy tissue. The virus is genetically modified to be able to detect tumour cells, penetrate them and multiply, destroying the tumour cells.
Meanwhile the in vitro method has now also been adopted by other research groups.
In the press release regarding the research award, Alexander Bonde, Baden-Württemberg’s Minister for Rural Development and Consumer Protection, stressed, “as a region strong on research, we want to send out a signal that we take our obligation to reduce animal experiments seriously, and that means that concrete alternatives are needed, which must be developed by scientists.”
Schleicher, M. et al. (2010): Simplified Pulse Reactor for Real-Time Long-Term In Vitro Testing of Biological Heart Valves. Annals of Biomedical Engineering 38/5: 1919-1927.
Zimmermann, M. et al. (2009): Human precision-cut liver tumor slices as a tumor patient-individual predictive test system for oncolytic measles vaccine viruses. International Journal of Oncology 34: 1247-1256.
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