The UCI Center for Medical Humanities hosted a lecture-discussion — “Replacement, Reduction & Refinement in Practice: Are We Doing All We Can? — that featured Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing Assistant Scientist and Animal Protection Commissioner of Berlin Kathrin Herrmann on May 7.
This discussion was the second webinar of the Jain Studies’ Lecture in Ethical Innovations, hosted by Presidential Chair Shri Parshvanath, and it continued the discussion on “Alternatives to Animal Testing.”
UCI Jain Studies Presidential Chair Brianne Donaldson acted as a moderator for this event. She began the event with a brief description of Jainism — a religion that guides an individual towards enlightenment and nirvana through the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence, to all living beings.
Donaldson introduced John Hopkins School of Medicine’s Center for Nanomedicine at the Wilmer Eye Institute and Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design Faculty Member Dr. Kunal Parikh, who is a member of the Jain community, and invited him to give an opening remark on Jainism and his work.
“Much of my work focuses on how we develop novel innovations that can address significant unmet needs globally and how we commercialize them in a way that equals access and affordability to the people who need it the most, and much of that is driven by my Jain values of serving others and of compassion for others,” Parikh said.
Donaldson then introduced Herrmann and her experience with animal ethics, such as her co-editing of the book “Animal Experimentation: Working Towards a Paradigm Change,” which reviews the current use of animals in science and presents novel non-animal approaches to move towards a human biology based science.
Herrmann’s lecture focused on the 3Rs — Replacement, Reduction and Refinement — in animal research, which provide a framework to move toward more humane animal experimentation, and the “barriers that we still face when moving towards human biology based, animal-free methods and how we can ultimately overcome them.”
Introducing the 3Rs, Herrmann said that the principles were developed in 1959 by two scientists in Britain, Drs. William Russell and Rex Burch. They created these principles to “eradicate the inhumanity towards animals by avoiding the use of them when possible and improving their treatment. And also to improve the quality of scientific and medical research and testing.”
“[W]hen followed, [the 3Rs] are a tool not only to save animals but also to improve scientific rigor and reproducibility and ultimately translatability,” Herrmann said.
She said that the transition from animal testing can only be made if the general public demands it from legislation.
“We can see [from previous research] that people are divided about the use [of animal experimentation], but there’s a tendency that they don’t like animal use for scientific research,” Herrmann said.
Through the actions of the public, such as the Stop Vivisection movement that collected 1,173,131 signatures from citizens in Europe, significant changes were made in terms of education and training in the 3Rs to help further the cause.
“[I]t is important that we apply the 3Rs principle and really focus on replacing and reducing animal use in experimentation because we are in a so-called reproducibility crisis,” Herrmann said.
The reproducibility crisis refers to scientific studies, including those that utilize animal experimentation, being difficult and sometimes impossible to reproduce. According to Herrmann, if this crisis is not addressed, “we have a problem because this is data that then is used for clinical trials that could harm humans.”
“The preclinical animal studies are not even reproducible and in many research fields, we have a translation rate of 0-5% … The National Institute of Health, the biggest founder in research organizations in the world, is actually looking at this problem, and they admit that the selection of the animals are not well validated models of human diseases,” Herrmann said.
There are existing arguments for improving translation from animal to human research. However, Herrmann said that an alternative to animal testing is needed.
“The species differences cannot be overcome … [Humans] are very complex beings and we have different lifestyles. And since we consider that about 95-98% of human diseases are linked to lifestyle factors, it’s really difficult to find an animal that can actually model the situation,” she said.
One R in the 3Rs stands for “Refinement,” which refers to “methods that minimise the pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm that may be experienced by research animals, and which improve their welfare.” Herrmann said that “this type of care is an important starting point in moving towards a type of compassion for all animals, not just companion animals, which then can contribute to the replacement efforts.”
Herrmann also said that there is not enough work being done to reach a higher level of refinement, reduction and replacement in many animal experimentation studies. Based on Herrmann’s own research with a colleague and after analyzing over 500 animal research proposals across Germany, they found that “postoperative management of animals was poor. Of 30% of those procedures, there was no postoperative anesthesia planned and following 10 of the proposed surgeries, [the researchers] said they would give pain relief if needed, but there was no clear indication how or if they would do pain assessments.” Additionally, viable non-animal alternatives — New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) — were not being utilized.
“The methods replacing [animal experimentation] have been around for more than 20 years. [I]t’s difficult to understand why it took so long to get those numbers down,” Herrmann said.
After discussing the 3Rs, Herrmann provided information about a virtual educational opportunity with the U.S. Summer School on Innovative Approaches in Science, which she co-organized and co-hosted. The first session was held in June 2020, and it will continue to take place every two years.
Clara Chao is a Campus News intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.