Accelerating human-relevant innovation will benefit both people and animals
Animal protection is an issue of vital importance and is rightfully climbing up the political agenda - recent months have seen some welcome progress in this field, but I want us to go further, and would like to see the UK position itself as leader in the world when it comes to animal welfare.
One group of animals often forgotten in this broad area are those used in experiments. Every animal matters, so we should be ambitious about reducing our reliance on animal testing. That’s why we need to invest in non-animal technologies. While it’s clear that we cannot leave behind animal testing overnight, I would like scientific alternatives to play a bigger role. This is a matter of R&D funding - the journey must be about science, process and reporting - but also ambition and language.
It’s not only animal protection at stake here. An over-reliance on animal experiments has suboptimal consequences for public health since the results often have poor relevance to human patients. Genetic differences between species can cause problems when translating research from animals to people. As a result, research suggests that up to 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests fail to reach the clinic and benefit people.
Fortunately, a range of cutting-edge techniques show promise in helping us to move beyond animal testing. Some possibilities which deserve further investigation include the use of advanced cultures of human cells and tissues, organ-on-a-chip technology and artificial intelligence.
On May 23, I will be hosting a parliamentary reception in support of World Animal Free Research Day, which seeks to raise awareness of these innovative approaches. The event will be supported by cross-party parliamentarians as well as Dame Joanna Lumley and TV Presenter Kirsty Gallacher, and is organised by Animal Free Research UK, a charity whose vision is a world where human diseases are cured faster without animal suffering.
Since it started, the charity has provided £10m in funding to 260 research projects, in fields such as cancer, diabetes and dementia. This has set the stage for significant breakthroughs such as the discovery that the cells that produce insulin - the beta cells - do not die as previously thought, but they change their function in diabetes – and crucially, this change may be reversible. This exciting and potentially very important finding illustrates the power of focusing on human biology from the off. Together we have the power to bring real change for humans and animals.
Such discoveries give cause for optimism, but government support is urgently needed to make the vision of human-relevant science a reality. On May 23, Animal Free Research UK will launch a document titled ‘Eight steps to accelerate human relevant innovation’ which sets out key recommendations for policymakers. These include providing significant funding for the development of human-relevant techniques and producing a concrete plan mapping how these cutting-edge approaches will be rolled out. The document also calls for a well-resourced programme of practical support and training for scientists, to help overcome the barriers in transitioning to these innovative techniques. Leadership and accountability will be vital, and the charity is calling for a Minister for Human Relevant Science who should champion the process of modernising medical research.
There is strong public support for embracing human-relevant innovation in this way. A 2021 YouGov poll commissioned by Animal Free Research UK found that 60 per cent of respondents would back extra government spending on developing non-animal alternatives. And an earlier Ipsos MORI survey, commissioned by the government, found that 75 per cent of respondents felt that more work should be done to find alternatives to animal experiments.
I hope you will join my call for a kinder, more modern approach to science, which will create a brighter future for people and animals, placing Britain at the forefront of scientific innovation. There is a real opportunity here. I would like us to set out a road map for how we will get to that point, and I would encourage us to all grasp that opportunity with both hands.
The event ‘United for a Kinder Science - advancing human relevant innovation’ will take place on May 23 between 2-4.30pm in Terrace Dining Room A, House of Commons. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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