Next to research that will benefit human health, the second focus of research at the BPRC is the development of alternatives for animal experiments. These alternatives are developed along the guidelines of the three R's of Refinement, Reduction and Replacement. Efforts within the BPRC are organized on multiple levels. All research departments educate a minimum of one PhD student who will work on Alternatives. In addition, there is a separate Unit that is dedicated to the development of Alternatives for animal experiments.
A straightforward yet not always feasible alternative for in vivo experiments is the use of in vitro cultured cell lines or primary cells. Cell lines are often derived from tumor material, and they have different characteristics than normal cells. In spite of their immortality their use is therefore restricted to particular research questions. Cultures of primary cells have a limited life span and should be inititated more often, but are much closer to normal cells. Not all cell types are easily cultivatable, and in particular cells of certain organs like the brain are difficult to cultivate. Within the Unit Alternatives a large variety of primary cell culture methods have been developed and characterized. These methods enable researchers to test their research questions on relevant cell types before performing animal experiments. Such a pre in vivo test phase leads to a considerable reduction in the number of animal experiments. It is important to note that primary cell cultures are always initiated from 'rest material' derived from donor animals that were euthanized as a result of e.g. other experiments. Thereby the end of one experiment is the beginning of another.
Another goal of the Unit is the refinement of the use of adjuvants. Adjuvants are formulations that initiate non-specific activation of the immune system. Adjuvants are often used in animals in biomedical research to trigger immune responses against disease-causing bacteria and viruses (in vaccination studies) or to trigger immune responses against one's own body (in animal models for human auto-immune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis). Unfortunately the use of adjuvants is often accompanied by adverse effects such as inflammatory skin reactions at sites of inoculation. We aim to develop new adjuvants with less or without adverse effects. To do so we have developed new, animal free, in vitro technology that we are now using to screen and (co)develop new adjuvants.
Communication, transparency and debate
To enhance transparency the BPRC annualy publishes a report on the use of experimental animals in the facility (http://www.bprc.nl/nl/artikel/proefdierkundig-jaarverslag-2014). Next to activities within the BPRC that are aimed at animal welfare, BPRC employees are also active in national and international initiatives (Expert working group 'Non-human primates in monoclonal antibody studies' organized by the UK national centre for 3Rs) to stimulate the use of alternatives. An 'open access' manuscript written by working group members that contains recommendations on the application of the 3Rs in non-human primate research was published in 2009 and has contributed to the discussion and acceptation of changes in European legislation.