University of Bern: 3Rs Awards 2021 go to researchers at the University of Bern

With their research the awardees not only help promote the 3Rs principle, which aims to replace, reduce and refine animal experiments, they communicated their projects in an exemplary manner to encourage other researchers to adopt these novel approaches in their work.

Bernhard Voelkl and his colleagues at the Animal Welfare Division of the Veterinary Public Health Institute recommend that scientists introduce biological variation such as different mouse strains, sex or housing conditions into their animal experiments to improve the quality and reproducibility of their results. Traditionally animal studies are conducted under highly standardized laboratory conditions, which was meant to improve their quality. Paradoxically, such studies are more difficult to replicate by other scientists. Adding variability allows researchers to improve the reproducibility and translatability of their results. This ultimately means that fewer animals are wasted for research that ends up being inconclusive because its design was not optimal.

Pauline Zamprogno helped to develop a new lung advanced in vitro model, called lung-on-chip, which is a promising alternative to animals for studying lung disease and identifying new therapeutic targets. The new model is a further development of the first-generation lung-on-chips, which were mounted on silicone-based (PDMS) membranes. By contrast, Zamprogno at the organ-on-chip lab developed a purely biological membrane made of lung extracellular matrix proteins. This model reproduces some key features of the alveoli in term of composition, structure and microenvironment. It opens up new possibilities for basic research on pulmonary diseases as well as studies to predict the safety and efficacy of new drugs.

The jury consisted of independent external reviewers from the Charité 3Rs (Berlin, DE) and the North American 3Rs Collaborative/University of Washington (USA) as well as a representative of the Swiss Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO). The jurors emphasised the importance of comprehensive communication as demonstrated by the award winners. The 3Rs Award 2021 and Young 3Rs Investigator Award recipients will receive CHF 4,000 and CHF 1,000 respectively to support their studies. Furthermore, they will get the opportunity to present their awarded research at the Swiss 3Rs Day 2022 and in a featured video.

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