The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) will award the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize for the sixth time this year. The prize recognises important scientific results that contribute to improving the welfare of animals used in research. The 2016 award, which is endowed with 100,000 euros, goes to Dr. Birgit Kegel and Dr. Beate Krämer together with four other members of the working group they head. The team works in the veterinary medicine department at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines, in Langen. It has developed a form of testing that can be used in place of experiments that have been necessary up to now but stressful to animals. The prize recognises the researchers' outstanding contribution to implementing the principle of the 3Rs (reduction, refinement and replacement).
DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider will present the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize in Bonn on 28 September 2016. In announcing the winners, Strohschneider said: "Animal experiments are nonetheless essential to basic research in biology and medicine. For the DFG the issue is how research can simultaneously reduce the number of experiments and minimise the distress imposed on the animals."
This year's recipients, selected from 14 applications by a jury of scientists, were awarded for developing a method to replicate a complex biological mechanism in a cell culture. The development of the new form of testing makes a special contribution to implementing the 3Rs as this method can render a large number of exceedingly stressful animal experiments, affecting more than 600,000 animals per year, unnecessary.
The team of researchers headed by Dr. Kegel and Dr. Krämer succeeded in developing a cellular system that artificially replicates the relevant mechanisms of the harmful effects of botulinum neurotoxins and can therefore be used for testing the toxins. The botulinum neurotoxins produced by bacteria cause muscular paralysis in humans and animals. This property makes neurotoxins an important active ingredient in drugs for the treatment of a wide range of neurological illnesses in addition to their application in cosmetics. Prior to their application in medical and cosmetic products, the active agents have to be tested on mice as standard procedure. There are two types of botulinum neurotoxins. The researchers have already developed and published an alternative procedure for one of them; now they are planning to refine the in vitro method for the other neurotoxin. The researchers are planning to use the prize money for an international ring study that is required before the new form of testing can be introduced as a standard method.
The prize was named after its founder, Ursula M. Händel (1915-2011), who championed many forms of animal welfare over several decades. For example, she founded the Bonn Animal Welfare Legislation Working Group, whose work was incorporated into amendments to the German Animal Welfare Act. Dedicated to animal welfare in science and research, Händel provided the DFG with the financial backing for the animal welfare prize. This biennial award is intended to recognise scientific research projects that contribute to reducing the level of distress and pain to which the animals used in experiments are exposed, reduce the number of animals required or replace animal experiments by alternative approaches.
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