Washington Update

FASEB Science Policy Committee Symposium Emphasizes Value of Animal Research

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Thursday, October 28, 2021

On October 21, FASEB hosted its annual Science Policy Committee (SPC) Symposium that focused on championing animal research to sustain biomedical progress. With more than 90 participants, members of the SPC and FASEB Board of Directors discussed opportunities for strengthening animal research advocacy, improving rigor and reproducibility, and facilitating policy solutions. To lead these discussions, three keynote speakers representing the academia, nonprofit, and industry perspectives, explained the importance of animal research and its role in improving human and animal health.

Megan Lafollette, PhD, Program Manager at North American 3Rs Collaborative (NA3RsC), shared resources developed by NA3RsC to facilitate scientists’ consideration for the 3Rs—reduction, refinement, and replacement—in designing and conducting experiments. For example, NA3RsC’s recent initiative on Microphysiological Systems (MPS) which include organoids, tissue models, and other nonanimal methods, focuses on improving education about the research contexts in which MPS may be most beneficial and the necessary steps required for regulatory acceptance. As an emerging field of research and technology, Lafollette emphasized the inherent limitations of MPS and noted the continued need for animals to validate these methodologies and address existing knowledge gaps.

Amy Leblanc, DVM, PhD, Director of the National Cancer Institute’s Comparative Oncology Program, highlighted the contributions of animal models in cancer research and drug development. Leblanc’s presentation highlighted how canines serve as valuable preclinical models for studying cancer because they naturally develop the same cancers as humans. Comparative studies with canines enable researchers to not only understand disease progression but also design targeted therapies that improve health outcomes for animal and humans.

Finally, Frank Koegler, PhD, Director of Global Obesity and Liver Disease Research at Novo Nordisk, provided a biomedical industry perspective on the importance of animal research. To ensure the safety and efficacy of new drugs, Koegler explained that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires preclinical testing with at least two species. Rodents, canines, and nonhuman primates are most common given their anatomic and physiological similarities to humans, though the choice of animal model depends on the therapeutic area. However, one of the persistent challenges in drug discovery and development is translation of animal findings to human results. At the same time, pharmaceutical developers face increasing pressure to reduce animal use in favor of nonanimal models such as organ cultures and computer simulations. Koegler noted that while these methodologies replicate very limited aspects of basic biology and disease, they can be used to supplement ongoing animal studies.

Additional information about the role of animal research in scientific breakthroughs—including pharmaceutical developments—can be found in FASEB’s advocacy resources and webinars.