24 March 2020
The podcast discusses the current COVID-19 virus and zoonotic (transmitted from animals to people) diseases, animal models for vaccine research, animal free alternative methods, state of research in Australia and overseas, AI (Artificial Intelligence) efforts and recommendations for future outbreaks.
Zoonotic diseases: Scientists have pinpointed more than 900 novel viruses around the world. Zoonotic diseases cause more than 1 billion cases of illness annually. Why are they so prominent? As our demand for animal based food, clothing and entertainment increases, so does our risk of contracting and spreading infectious diseases; as well as eating animals, factory farming, and habitat destruction leading to more human-animal interaction.
Vaccine research for COVID-19: Researcher and drug companies are developing 20 possible vaccines to help protect against COVID-19. Animal models which are being used (worldwide) in laboratories are species that are carriers, and animals that are most likely to represent human pathology and toxicology:
-Ferrets (physiology similar to humans)
"No animal model is perfect."
What animal-free alternatives are available? MIMIC (Modular Immune In Vitro Constructs) which is a a simulated human immune system, and advanced in-vitro technologies such as Organ-On-A-Chip. In-vitro technologies are required to have a prediction rate of 85-90% in order to be accepted in the regulatory level, whereas animal model achieves a 10% prediction rate according to the FDA. There is already much data available from previous research that can be drawn from.
The World Health Organisation hosted a meeting in February 2020 regarding COVID-19. During this conference, vaccine developers agreed that efforts should be made to progress more quickly to human tests before animal tests were completed (not necessarily replacing animal testing) as the threat was so severe.
"There is no guarantee an effective animal model will be found... researchers are wasting valuable time" - Rachel, HRA
We can use this opportunity to issue a challenge that research methods can be faster, more effective, more humane and cheaper, we just need an investment in human relevance science. Because of the shut downs worldwide, some laboratories are not conducting 'non essential' research using animals. This begs the question, what animal research is most necessary? Kirk Leach from the European Animal Research Association states, "The normally loud and brash online platforms of activist groups opposed to the use of animals in research are strangely quiet at the moment. It’s easy to see why, of course. The coronavirus pandemic has made their arguments far harder to make than usual." Rachel rebuts with, "On the contrary.. there's never been a better time to state our case, and progress biomedical science...".
"It is time to change the current paradigm in biomedical research if we want to preserve our health in the face of emergent diseases of the 21st century. Perhaps the covid-19 epidemic will help us question our outdated scientific practises, as well as the obsolete practises that still impose them." - Andre Menache, Scientific Advisor HRA
Read the full podcast here.