Promoting animal-friendly research

25 February 2011

A new method of studying cerebral malaria that avoids animal testing has been recognised by an award at the University of Sydney.

Professor Georges Grau, of the Department of Pathology at Sydney Medical School, developed an in vitro model to study the disease to replace the customary method of inoculating mice with a rodent-specific malaria parasite.

(L-R) Professor Jill Trewhella, Meidong Zhu, Georges Grau, Meika Foster and Malcolm France
(L-R) Professor Jill Trewhella, Meidong Zhu, Georges Grau, Meika Foster and Malcolm France

Focusing on one particular aspect of cerebral malaria, specifically the lesions in small brain blood vessels, Professor Grau was able to avoid testing on animals and could use human cells obtained with informed consent instead.

His system has also been taken up by researchers in the USA and Europe, and has been adapted to the study of other diseases of the brain including viral encephalitis, tumour metastasis, multiple sclerosis and cryptococcal meningitis.

Professor Grau's work has been recognised with the university's inauguralAward for the Reduction of Use of Animals in Research.

The first of its kind from an Australian research institution, the award is designed to encourage researchers to think about how they can reduce or replace animal testing altogether.

The founder of the award, Dr Malcolm France, Director of Laboratory Animal Services, says it is a reaction to a strong history of non-animal methods already in place at the University.

"The importance of considering non-animal alternative methodologies in research is crucial," says Dr France.

"The award recognises the replacement and reduction of animals in research. While these are considered the most challenging measures to take, they are also understandably preferred given the values of our community as expressed in our national Code of Practice."

The inaugural recipient of the award was announced on Monday 21 February by Professor Jill Trewhella, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), and submissions were received from all faculties in which animal research is undertaken.

"Given the benefits to our communities, it is likely that research involving animals will be with us for some time yet," said Professor Trewhella at the announcement of the award. "Nevertheless, it is important to be aware that significant progress is also being made in areas which don't rely on animals but instead use methods such as epidemiology, human clinical trials, imaging techniques, computer modelling and so on - all of which are well-established disciplines at this university as well as other institutions.

"We believe it is important to recognise these efforts, not only for their inherent value, but also to help raise awareness of methods that can potentially reduce or even replace the use of animals in some areas."

Two other entries were also acknowledged as highly commended. Meika Foster and Associate Professor Samir Samman, both from the School of Molecular Bioscience, were recognised for a method of using human blood cells instead of animals in the study of zinc status in humans.

Dr Meidong Zhu, of the Save Sight Institute, was recognised for her studies into the use of non-embryonic stem cells in repair of the cornea. While this method still relies on the use of animal tissues, it is an important demonstration of the potential to reduce animal numbers by sharing tissues and has allowed them to avoid sacrificing any animals for their project over three years.