Durham joins effort to reduce the need for animal research

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Durham University has recently received an award of £74, 993 to fund a pilot study aimed at reducing the need for animals in research.

The funding has been given by the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), and is one of twenty grants worth £4.8 million to have been awarded to UK universities, research institutes, and small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The study, which will aim to produce proteins from nematode worms for use in therapeutic research, is to be led by Dr David Weinkove of the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.

Such proteins interfere with the human immune system, and researchers believe that by gaining an understanding of the proteins it will be possible to utilise them to treat diseases such as arthritis, eczema, asthma, and irritable bowel syndrome, all of which are associated with immune system overactivity.

The proteins are traditionally produced in rodent hosts, though this work is not carried out at Durham.

Dr Weinkove explained: “Our project will use the non-parasitic worm Caenorhabditis elegans, which can be genetically modified to produce proteins found in parasitic worms, but does not need a host to grow in, thereby replacing the use of rodents.

“The research will also enable proteins from parasites that cannot grow in rodent models to be produced and characterised, leading to further understanding of how the immune system can be modified for therapeutic purposes.”

It is hoped that, on a national scale, funding by NC3Rs will enable the development of such methods to reduce the reliance of research on animal species in the advancement of treatments for human diseases.

Current proposed projects include attempts to replace the use of mice in the development of anti-cancer drugs, and work aiming to move the studying of tuberculosis from animal to human cells.

Professor Chris Higgins, the University’s Vice-Chancellor, said: “Studying animals in the laboratory is sometimes the only way to gain the critical understanding behind the discovery and development of medical treatments for conditions such as cancer and diabetes.

“However we are also committed to reducing the number of animals used in research and in seeking alternatives where possible. We are very pleased with this award which allows us to deliver on this commitment.”

Photograph: Durham University

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