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Tuesday, 25 January 2011 15:46

Improvement of animal welfare in research: The DFG awards the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize

For the fourth time the German Research Foundation (DFG) awarded the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize to those scientists who are considered to have made exemplary and sustained efforts to improve the welfare of animals in research. On January 24th the prize was awarded to the members of two working groups by Prof. Matthias Kleiner, President of the DFG, at the Wissenschaftsforum in Berlin. The groups from Hamburg and Konstanz share the prize money of 50.000 Euro.

This year the award went to the research group from the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Prof. Thomas Eschenhagen, Dr. Arne Hansen, Dr. Ing. Alexandra Eder and Dr. Sebastian Schaaf.

The prize-giving was rounded off with a panel discussion on the topic “Animal experiments in fundamental research: prospects and restrictions of replacement methods”. The Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize was created on the initiative of its eponymous founder. Her particular goals are to limit the suffering of laboratory animals as far as possible and to reduce the number of experiments on animals.


Left image: Price recipient Prof. Thomas Eschenhagen, Dr. Arne Hansen, Dr. Ing. Alexandra Eder, Dr. Sebastian Schaaf and President Prof. Matthias Kleiner (DFG).
Right image: Prof. Alexander Bürkle, Price recipient Dr. Maria Moreno-Villanueva, President Prof. Matthias Kleiner (DFG).

The group developed a replacement method for testing pharmacological substances on the cardiac function by using embryonic stem cells. These cells had been converted to Heart muscle tissue (three dimensional cardiac tissue engineering). With this kind of tissue the researchers are able to measure the influence of substances to cardiac muscle power, time of tension and relaxation and rhythm artificial cardiac muscle tissue. This makes the use of rabbits or dogs for the screening of pharmacological substances unnecessary. Apart from that the method saves time and cuts costs and expenses for material. The so-called hERG assay for risk assessment consisting of animal tissue is already known. The newly developed tissue now contains human tissue. The prize money will be invested in further method development.

The second awardee, Dr. Maria Moreno-Villanueva,  member of the working group of Prof. Alexander Bürkle, Chair of Molecular Toxicology, Department of Biology, University of Konstanz. She developed an optical method to detect DNA strain breaks and their reparation processes after the addition of chemical substances to cell cultures (so called FADU method) targeting to identify gentoxic effects of these substances.

During this procedure, one uses human blood samples in order to test a substance ouside the human body (ex vivo).  Until now the substances were tested on Fetal Bovine Serum. This now isn’t necessary anymore. This offers the advantage that tiny cell changes which often are unnoticed can be detected. These small cell changes can have drastic effects on the organism and can lead to mutation, cancer or Apoptosis (Programmed Cell Death).

The scientists want to use the price money in favor of the validation of the method. The working group Molecular Toxicology, of the Department of Biology, University of Konstanz Toxicology is listed in the working group list on our InVitroJobs platform.

Participants of the Panel Discussion (left to right): Prof. Axel Haverich, Prof. Stefan Treue, Prof. Marcel Leist, Marco Finetti (German Research Foundation). Image on the right site: Prof. Marcel Leist.

The award ceremony was accompanied by a panel discussion about the topic “Animal experiments in fundamental research: Prospects and limitations of replacement methods”. In this discussion Prof. Marcel Leist of the Doerenkamp-Zbinden Chair Konstanz expressed his astonishment that in the "Baseler Declaration" from 29th November 2010 the support of the development of animal-free methods was not mentioned. He expressed the opinion that animal use is sometimes overestimated. As an example he offered that one of four medicines for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease has an opposite effect compared to the results of animal experiments. He stated that concerning the development of alternatives to animal use, there seems to be a lack of criteria for the proper evaluation of methods.
Prof. Treue described the "Baseler Declaration" as a means for communication which could lead to further declarations or statements.