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Test animal friendly scientific research with clinical relevance

From the conviction that the use of lab animals in toxicological studies for new medicine can drastically be reduced by combining interdisciplinary expertise and cutting-edge technology, the existing research chair Mireille Aerens was expaded upon within the faculty of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences. 

Introduction

The development of new medicine is expensive and time-consuming. Amounts of €1-2 billion over a timeframe of 10-12 years are no exception. The eventually successful new substance that goes to market only represents 1 in 10.000 research molecules. The biggest obstruction usually is the safety for human health. Despite the many tests that are carried out on lab animals before a clinical trial, the development of many a new drug has to be stopped prematurely due to liver toxicity in humans. The primary cause for this is the low correlation between humans and lab animals. Less than 60% of the in vivo (i.e. tested on lab animals) results are relevant to humans, which raises ethical questions and makes the search for alternative methods all the more relevant. 

Developing alternative methods can be seen in the 3R-concept (Refinement, Reduction, Replacement) of Russell and Burch. It aims at developing lab animal free methods with the same or improved safety for humans. When lab animals need to be used, attention needs to be paid to the minimal amount of animals that are needed and the research needs to be carried out under strictly humane conditions. 

Goals

Interdisciplinaire ontwikkeling van alternatieve 3D-cultuur methoden voor de in vitro studie van levertoxiciteit ge├»nduceerd door nieuwe geneesmiddelen. Hierbij zullen postnatale stamcellen gebruikt worden die afkomstig zijn van humane huid en die gedifferentieerd zijn naar functionele levercellen. Het cultuursysteem zal geminiaturiseerd worden tot een prototype lab-on-a-chip (LOC) en niet-invasieve gevoelige on-line meetmethodes zullen ontwikkeld worden. Het onderzoek gebeurt interdisciplinair en is een unieke samenwerking tussen IVTD (In Vitro Toxicology en Dermato-Cosmetologie) en B-PHOT (Brussels Photonics Team), beiden succesvolle onderzoeksgroepen aan de VUB. Twee vorsers worden gefinancieerd om in de komende 4 jaar vernieuwende alternatieve methoden te ontwikkelen in het domein van de preklinische toxicologie, namelijk om vroegtijdig levertoxiciteit door nieuwe geneesmiddelen op te kunnen sporen zonder hierbij proefdieren te gebruiken.

Donor

VUB Philantropist Mireille Arens has a heart for animals. That is why she decided to donate a part of her estate to VUB in order to create a chair to finance research into the reduced use of lab animals in scientific experiments. As the donor of the chair she is closely involved with the research.

"In my case I decided to already make a donation now. Giving is a blessing in its own right. The fact that I can do so for a Flemish university in Brussels that furthermore reflects my personal values, is something I am extremely grateful for. And I hope to contribute further after my death."

Period

2015-2023

Chair holder: Prof. Dr. Vera Rogiers

Vera Rogiers is professor Toxicology at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and head of the research group IVTD – In Vitro Toxicology and Dermato-Cosmetology. She was trained as a pharmacist at Ghent University and obtained her PhD at VUB for her biochemical research into Cystic Fibrosis, after which she joined the Toxicology department at VUB. A few years later she obtained an additional master's degree in Applied Toxicology at the University of Guildford in the UK. 

Vera Rogiers' work focused entirely on Experimental In Vitro Toxicology and she developed a strong research team that now counts 34 staff members and that is unique in Belgium as a toxicological team that concentrates its efforts in the development of lab animal friendly in vitro methodology. For this research she and her team were awarded many international awards. The research group is recognised both nationally and internationally and collaborates in various European initiatives. The interdisciplinary collaboration is a realisation between IVTD and B-PHOT, the Photonics research group lead by Prof. Hugo Thienpont, who is acting Vice rector Innovation at VUB and head of the Innovation & Valorisation Board.