Prize for improving welfare of hamsters used in medical research

The winner of the second annual 3Rs Prize is Professor Alan Fairlamb.

A new technique for infecting hamsters used in research on visceral leishmaniasis has been awarded the second annual 3Rs Prize today (Tuesday 23 January 2007).

The prize was awarded by Joan Ryan MP, Home Office Minister, at the Annual Stakeholder Meeting of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

The recipient of the £10k GlaxoSmithKline-sponsored prize, Professor Alan Fairlamb, University of Dundee, works on new treatments for visceral leishmaniasis, also known as Black Fever, which is the second-largest parasitic killer in the world after malaria. In his research, Professor Fairlamb and his colleague Dr Susan Wyllie infect hamsters with the parasite Leishmania donovani which causes visceral leishmaniasis. By using a different route of infection, the duration and severity of the disease in the hamster was reduced without compromising the quality of the scientific outcome.

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said: "Now in its second year, the 3Rs Prize is a great way to showcase the kind of research that the NC3Rs encourages and supports. Professor Fairlamb's work is an excellent example of how small changes to the day-to-day work of a researcher can have a positive impact on both the welfare of the animals used and the science being carried out."

Joan Ryan said: "The work carried out by the NC3Rs, and scientists such as Professor Fairlamb, is critical in pushing forward scientific research techniques so that we only use animals in scientific research where it is absolutely necessary, and that where we do, their welfare is ensured."

Professor Fairlamb said: "We are honoured and delighted to receive this award. The award money will be used to develop a simple, sensitive and specific urine test that can be used to measure the efficacy of experimental drug treatments in animals, as well as for use in diagnosing and monitoring treatment in patients.

"It is the duty of all scientists involved in medical and veterinary research to find alternatives to animal experiments, to reduce the number of animals used and to refine experimental techniques to minimise animal suffering when no suitable alternatives exist."

Leishmania parasites cause a wide spectrum of human diseases and are a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in 88 countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Southern Europe. Millions of people are at risk, with 400,000 new cases each year and an annual death toll of 59,000. Despite recent advances in understanding, treatment remains problematic and often ineffective. New drugs and more effective treatments are now a matter of urgency and there is currently a proliferation of anti-Leishmania drug development underway.

At present, one component of drug development is reproducing the infection in an animal model, in this case the hamster is the most appropriate species. In refining this widely used animal model, Professor Fairlamb has identified ways to reduce the impact of infection on the animal itself, as demonstrated by a shorter length of infection and less severe symptoms.

In his research, Professor Fairlamb compared the commonly-used intracardial route of infection with the intraperitoneal route. The results showed that the intraperitoneal route is a simpler, safer and effective method of inoculating the hamsters.

At the Annual Stakeholder Meeting the NC3Rs Annual Report 2006 was also launched. This document, entitled 'A year of progress', acts as a report for the Science Minister and other stakeholders and highlights the significant successes that the Centre has achieved over the past 12 months.

 

References

Wyllie S, Fairlamb AH (2006). Refinement of techniques for the propogation of Leishmania donovani in hamsters. Acta Trop 97(3): 364–369.
 

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