Lancaster University

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Re-using cow eyes to help replace animal tests

08/24/2006 11:32:25

A proposal to re-use cow eyes left over as abattoir waste, as a replacement for animal tests, is one of nine projects that have been awarded funding by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

This is the Centre’s second year of funding and a total of £1.4 million has been awarded, compared with £1 million in the first year. The main aim of six of the grants is to replace animal use in some way, one grant aims to reduce the numbers currently used, and another two grants aim to refine experiments to minimise the suffering of the animals used.

The NC3Rs was launched in September 2004 by Lord Sainsbury, Minister for Science, to provide a focus for 3Rs activity in the UK.

One of the grants has been awarded to Dr Fullwood of Lancaster University for his proposal to use the cornea of cow eyes, a by-product of the meat industry, to carry out research that is currently done using the eyes of live animals. This includes research into diseases causing blindness, such as keratoconus or Fuch’s dystrophy, and the tests on new products carried out by commercial companies.

Dr Fullwood said: “The aim is to maintain the cornea from the cows in special chambers that allow them to remain alive for several weeks. There is an irrigation system to replicate the protective effect of tears on the surface of the eye, and the underside is supplied with the necessary nutrients.

“With this funding we hope to test whether these artificially-maintained eyes respond in similar ways to a living eye, by comparing the data collected, with the extensive data that already exists from previous testing on live animals.

“If proved effective, this technique could replace some of the current tests carried out on the eyes of live animals – and this could be the case both for fundamental disease research and for commercial applications such as toxicological testing.”

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said: “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to fund such an excellent range of high quality research projects which have the potential to make an impact on animal use, not just in the UK, but in some cases on a worldwide scale. The fact that the range of research is so broad shows that innovative thinking is possible right across the disciplines. We hope that other scientists will see how taking a creative approach can yield great results both for the animals and for the science.”

Another piece of research that has received funding plans to refine the current use of mice in understanding the causes of pulmonary embolism, to minimise the level of suffering they experience. At present, the model used to study this condition involves inducing pulmonary embolism in mice, which ultimately result in paralysis and death. Dr Michael Emerson of Imperial College London has proposed that a different method could be used, where the mice can be anaesthetised and they suffer neither paralysis nor death in the process.

Dr Emerson said: “The blood clots which form in pulmonary embolism contain platelets. We can radiolabel these platelets and detect whether they build up in the chest as a way of testing the effectiveness of new treatments. The less platelets build up, the more effective the treatment is likely to be. With this method you can also use smaller amounts of the substances used to induce the embolism, which means that the mice do not suffer paralysis or death. Also, the same mouse can be used to collect more information, so the total number of animals used is reduced.”