Animal Free Research UK funds innovation pilot grants to support researchers to transition to NAMs (New Approach Methodologies) and highlight the power of human-focused research
Animal-derived Biomaterials (ADB) are consumables used for many applications in biomedical research, from in vitro cell culture to disease diagnosis in the clinic.
In addition to ethical and environmental concerns about the production of bovine serum (also called FBS) or mouse, rabbit or other animal-derived antibodies, there are real scientific concerns about the reproducibility and reliability of data generated using these products. Despite numerous studies highlighting problems associated with ADB use, a large majority of researchers still use them.
To help modern science move in the right direction for the greater benefit of patients, Animal Free Research UK supports researchers in (1) recognising the need to change their tools, and (2) embrace the vast number of animal-free products available to science. Scientists can use Animal Free Research UK tools like the NAMs Interface.
We appreciate that it is essential for scientists to validate their tools before moving forward with their experiments and to make sure they are reliable. We also understand that some highly valuable animal-free research projects might, therefore, require the use of some ADBs, with the ultimate aim of fully replacing them. In these particular circumstances, Animal Free Research UK may approve the use of animal-derived biomaterials.
We always require robust scientific justification from scientists for approval of temporary and limited animal-derived biomaterial use to support the transition to fully animal free research.
Grants we award may never be used to fund the purchase of any animal-derived biomaterials used.
Animal Free Research UK does not and will never fund the use of animal
Polyclonal antibodies are produced in animals, often rabbits, who have proteins from other species (including humans) injected into them. After an incubation period, their blood, which now contains polyclonal antibodies, is taken from the animals. Polyclonal antibodies are used to demonstrate the presence or absence of proteins in human tissues and cells in research and diagnosis.
In 1975, a technique was developed where cells from mice were fused together to form a perpetually growing ‘hybridoma’ which could produce endless supplies of antibodies without using further animals. These are called monoclonal antibodies.
Developing and producing polyclonal antibodies always involves using live animals which is why Animal Free Research UK will not allow their use in our funded research. Currently, monoclonal antibodies remain a central element in medical research and we only allow their use where there are no other options, although fortunately they can be increasingly replaced by synthetics, known as recombinant antibodies.
Animal serum is often used in cell culture research when scientists want to grow or maintain cells in laboratories under controlled conditions. Animal serum is extracted from the blood of animals who are killed in slaughterhouses for meat. Fetal calf serum is taken from unborn cows whose mothers are killed. Animal Free Research UK will not allow the use of any animal serum in our funded research, and there are now many replacements which can be used instead.
What Animal Free Research UK is doing
We strongly encourage scientists to avoid all animal-derived biomaterials, and we recognise that transitioning can be a tricky and time-consuming process which requires confirmational studies to assess whether the cells are adapting well and are functioning as expected. That’s why we are working hard to facilitate these efforts by:
- Supporting the FCS-free.org database which enables scientists to switch from fetal calf serum (FCS) to FCS-free cell culture media
- Advising our funded researchers on other replacements currently available to help them make the switch
- Creating a new online database listing commercially available alternatives to using antibodies taken from animals.
As well as being the right thing to do ethically, switching to human-relevant materials is scientifically smart too.
At Animal Free Research UK, we believe that developing and using human models of human disease provides the best chance of finding treatments which can make a real difference for patients.
Sadly, completely vegan research is rarely achievable at present given the prevalence of animal-derived biomaterials within scientific research. That is why we are working with industry, academia and policymakers to phase out this hidden animal use and enable scientists to stop using animals in medical research.