Rethinking Healthcare

Better imaging means fewer animals, improved data?

Better imaging means fewer animals, improved data?

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Scientists are pushing for smarter uses of medical imaging tech that would not only reduce the numbers of animals necessary for research, but also improve the way they're used.

Researchers are actively working to reduce the numbers of animals used in modern medicine and to improve on how they’re being used.

Thanks to technologies such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists are increasingly turning to noninvasive imaging to further the replacement, refinement, and reduction – the 3Rs – of animals in research.

Many met up in London last week to discuss 3Rs work, Nature News reports.

"The big trend is combining all the available techniques together in the same animal, increasing the amount of information we get out of the subject," says François Lassailly, a biologist specializing in imaging at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (LRI). "This is beneficial to the animals and beneficial to the science."

The researchers should be treating an 'ani-patient' – that way, he adds, the study of the animal mimics the treatment of a patient in the clinic. This involves applying all the scanning and imaging techniques a hospital doctor has access to, and thus bridge the gap between the lab and the clinic.

Some examples they brought up:

  • Rather than sacrifice animals weekly to investigate disease progression, you can use imaging to look at the progression through the lifetimes of individual animals.
  • For detecting tumors, optical imaging can be used with cancer cells that have been engineered to emit light to image tumors inside animal subjects.
  • Imaging also makes it possible to look at several biomarkers at once, answering more questions in a single experiment.
  • Images collected from live animals using MRI and CT scans improve the relevance of animal models of infectious diseases, especially with drugs and vaccines for tuberculosis. Images of tissue collected from infected animals help quantify the degree of protection that’s occurred.
  • One day, images from infected animals could be kept under isolation conditions, with a device like a sealed baby incubator ventilated with high-efficiency filters. This could quickly establish the efficacy of treatments and vaccines.

"If you can get better data, there is less chance that you need to repeat experiments, and you can get more information from fewer animals," says Sally Sharpe of the UK’s Health Protection Agency.

The meeting was organized by the London-based National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research.

Meanwhile, Hildegard Doerenkamp, a Swiss philanthropist and dog-lover, has given a hefty donation of $1.4 million to Doerenkamp–Zbinden Foundation, which supports work to reduce animal testing.

Last week, toxicology experts and animal-welfare groups met in Budapest to discuss how to spend the donation. Scientists need to identify what information dog tests provide that tests in a dish or on rodents cannot, they say, and regulatory authorities must standardize their requirements for dog testing so that pharmaceutical companies can minimize the number of animals they use.

Via Nature News.

Image: toy mouse in a toy CT by voxel123 via Flickr

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure