Excerpts from the JRC Virtual Summer School on ‘Non-animal approaches in science: The Three R…evolution (17th May – 21st May, 2021)

Radhika Dhekane, Karishma S Kaushik

Radhika Dhekane from the Human-Relevant Infection Biology Group at Savitribai Phule Pune University attended the JRC Virtual Summer School from 17th May – 21st May 2021. In this article with Dr. Karishma S Kaushik, she shares excerpts from the meeting, and possible ways it could inform human-relevant science in India.

As a part of their agenda to promote the 3Rs, JRC conducted a virtual, week-long summer school on ‘Non-animal approaches in science’ for early-career researchers across the world. This theme was of particular interest to us as our group, the  Human-Relevant Infection Biology Group at Savitribai Phule Pune University, is building human-relevant platforms for high-throughput screening of novel antimicrobial compounds against wound biofilms. Based on learnings from this program, we outline the major focus areas that hold the key to developing alternatives to animal use, and advancing human-relevant science. 

Information is key!

ECVAM has done comprehensive surveys to gather statistical data on animal use across EU labs and has created an online database for tracking animals and treatments given to the animals, including treatment severity. This transparency in reporting information related to animal experimentation can provide critical insights for researchers and policymakers.

Next-generation data toolkit to replace animals

There has been significant technological advancement in biological data sciences in the past few decades. Massive amounts of data can be generated through in vitro, in chemico, and in silico methods, and clinical data. Together, these methods can collectively form the next generation data toolkit, which can potentially lead to more precision-based, human-relevant knowledge. 

Alternative assessment methods in biomedical research

Alternative methods could circumvent problems associated with animal models include for example, 3D culture systems such as organoids and spheroids. More complex platforms include organ-on-chip technology, a popular alternative that aims to recapitulate the complexities of human physiology such as tissue-tissue interfaces, circulating immune cells, the physical microenvironment, as well as microbial components. Importantly, these platforms hold enormous potential to be commercialized for new drug safety, efficacy and pharmacokinetic testing.

Alternatives to animal-derived products: animal-free antibodies

Antibodies, an integral part of biological research, are one of most widely-used animal-derived products. In spite of concerns with cross-reactivity, replacing research antibodies with animal-free methods is a challenging task, the in vitro generation of antibodies using phage display has enabled the creation of vast libraries of up to 10 billion human antibody genes that can target virtually any antigen. These antibodies can in the near future, reduce the use of, and in the long-term, potentially replace animal-derived antibodies in biological research. 

Turning the field on its head: ‘Human as a model animal’

Apart of several well-known factors, large phenotypic variations due to genetic and environmental variations sets human physiology apart from laboratory-reared animals

In recent times, India has made a strong push towards human-based science, with policies and practices to reduce the use of animals in research. Capitalizing on this traction, requires scientists, across disciplines, to build robust and sustainable alternatives to animal and animal product use, and do this in conjunction with policymakers and entrepreneurs working in technology development and application.