Auckland University team wins award for new approach

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Dr Benjamin Albert and his colleagues from the Liggins Institute, Auckland University, are the winners of the 2020 Aotearoa New Zealand John Schofield 3Rs Implementation Award.

The 3Rs promote the reduction and replacement of animals used in research, testing, and teaching, and the refinement of experimental techniques to minimise pain or distress. These principles are championed by the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC), which administers the biennial award.

The Auckland-based team has developed a methodology for incorporating oils into edible gels as an alternative to the oral administration of nutritional supplements or drugs to small laboratory rodents, which has traditionally been the most physiologically appropriate method.

Although the use of gels has been previously described for some circumstances, the novel aspect of this work was the development of a method to incorporate lipid-based materials, Dr Albert said.

"We found the animals ate the gels quickly and completely, without any ill effects – and better still, they clearly enjoyed them," he said.

"Whenever we use animals in research, we feel a deep responsibility for their wellbeing. We are proud to have developed a method that will improve animal welfare and reduce the number of animals needed in future studies."

The team has proved that gels are taken in readily with minimal impact on nutrition. As a means of administering an oral nutritional or drug intervention the delivery method has shown it has all the advantages of daily gavage, without the risk of harm, stress, and potentially painful mishap, says NAEAC chairman Grant Shackell.

"Dr Albert and his team have demonstrated a profound concern for animal welfare in delaying future studies until he and his team were able to develop their own, improved protocol. It's that initiative and willingness to adapt that make him and his colleagues worthy recipients of this award," Mr Shackell said.

Several approaches have been made to promote awareness of this work.  A paper reporting the methodology is currently undergoing peer review. Its publication will help support awareness of this approach's superiority and underpin future work by advocating the methodology.

The protocol is also being turned into an ANZCCART 3Rs resource, which will publicise how the refinement can reduce the number of animals used in supplementation studies.  Raising awareness of this improvement has already resulted in at least one other group at Auckland University moving away from oral gavage to using gels in a drug administration animal study.

As well as congratulating Dr Albert and his team on winning the $5,000 award, NAEAC also congratulates all the other applicants on the quality of their submissions.

NAEAC also acknowledges the generous support of the Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART) for providing funding to support the award.

Background to NAEAC and the 3Rs

NAEAC is a statutory committee established under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 to provide independent advice to the minister responsible for animal welfare on issues relating to the use of animals in research, testing, and teaching.

The committee actively encourages the application of the 3Rs principles in research, testing and teaching. This means:

  • replacing animals with non-animal alternatives. Computer models can sometimes be used for teaching instead of live animals
  • using as few animals as necessary
  • refining the way experiments are carried out to reduce pain or suffering as much as possible. For example, painkillers or the most advanced scientific methods could be used.

Animal ethics committees must take the 3Rs into account when considering proposals for research, testing, or teaching. This means that animals should only be used when there are no alternatives. Any harm to animals must be minimised and weighed against the benefit to humans or other animals.

Scientific advances have changed the use of animals in research. Recent developments let researchers reduce the number of animals used, in certain situations. Developments have helped researchers refine their methods to minimise or eliminate pain and distress.

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