University of Tübingen: Kick-off event of the 3R network Baden-Württemberg

Nationwide network to improve animal welfare and research is launched
Animal experiments contribute to a better understanding of diseases in medicine and help in the development of many new diagnostic procedures and therapies. Despite the development of alternatives, they will remain a necessary component in biomedical research for the foreseeable future. The scientists always focus on the 3R principle – i.e. to improve, reduce and, if possible, avoid animal experiments (avoidance, reduction, improvement = replacement, reduction, refinement – 3R). With the establishment of a comprehensive 3R network that includes all major biomedical locations in the state, Baden-Württemberg is choosing a new approach to advance scientific research and animal welfare equally.

“Biomedical research is playing a critical role in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. It was only thanks to decades of basic research that a year after the virus had spread worldwide, a large number of vaccines against COVID-19 could be developed and used. These vaccines would not exist without animal testing, and the development of effective therapies will not do without them for the foreseeable future. We therefore need more alternative methods, ”said Science Minister Theresia Bauer on Tuesday (May 4th) in Stuttgart. It is all the more important to advance both research and animal welfare – “and we will achieve this together with our 3R network Baden-Württemberg. We want to actively contribute to reducing the number of animal experiments in research.

Topic also of social relevance
“With the 3R-Netzwerk Baden-Württemberg we want to bundle the expertise in biomedical research in the state, increase the visibility of the activities and ensure a continuous discussion of the subject of animal welfare in research and teaching”, emphasized the minister. Not only the around 200 registrations for the kick-off event showed the relevance of the topic, but also the broad field of participants consisting of scientists, animal welfare officers, veterinarians, students, representatives from industry and other 3R centers as well as representatives from animal welfare organizations.

The state will provide almost four million euros over the next five years to build the network. The participating universities supplement this start-up funding from the Ministry of Science with a total of almost three million euros in their own funds, so that almost seven million euros will be available for the 3R network over the next few years.

“Whether better drugs, safe operations or the knowledge of how to transplant organs: The great advances in medicine over the past 150 years were only possible through the exchange between basic biomedical research and application-oriented clinical research. With the 3R network and in particular with the 3R Center, biomedical research at the Tübingen location receives another important impetus in the effort to further improve animal welfare and research “, emphasized Prof. Dr. Bernd Engler, Rector of the University of Tübingen which, together with the NMI Natural Science and Medical Institute in Reutlingen, is the sponsor of the 3R Center.

At the start of the newly founded 3R network Baden-Württemberg, the ten network partners presented their funded projects in ten-minute lectures. The kick-off event for the network was organized by the 3R Center for In-Vitro Models and Alternative Animal Experiments on behalf of the Ministry of Science. “With our 3R Center we want to offer scientists in Baden-Württemberg the easiest possible access to innovative alternative methods, with the aim of reducing the number of animal experiments to a necessary minimum in the long term,” said the founding director of the 3R Center and director of the NMI Reutlingen, Prof. Dr. Katja Schenke-Layland.

Five centers form the basic structure of the network
Together with the 3R Center for in-vitro models and alternative animal experiments in Tübingen / Reutlingen, which was founded in spring 2020, four further centers will form the basic structure of the “3R Network Baden-Württemberg”: the “3R Center Rhein-Neckar” the University of Heidelberg with the Central Institute for Mental Health Mannheim, the “3R-US Network” of the University of Stuttgart and the Robert Bosch Hospital, the “CAAT-Europe” (Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing in Europe) of the University of Konstanz with the John Hopkins University and the “Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Intestinal Health” at Heidelberg University.

Education and training with the focus
In addition, three other research projects are funded, which are based at the universities in Heidelberg, Ulm and Freiburg. In addition, two projects in the field of training and further education at Reutlingen University and Ulm University are being funded.

Nationwide research competence: 10 projects in 10 minutes each
With the W3 bridge professorship of Prof. Dr. Peter Loskill for Organ-on-a-Chip-Systems, who from May 1st also took over the management of the 3R-Center for In-Vitro-Models and Alternative Animal Experiments in Tübingen , the Medical Faculty of the University of Tübingen receives the expertise to provide new technologies that can reduce or even replace the need for animal testing. The decisive advantage is that organ-on-a-chip models represent the natural micro-environment as it is in human cells in certain organs and tissues.

Dr. Marcus Meinhardt from the Central Institute for Mental Health Mannheim will speak about the 3R-Zentrum Rhein-Neckar , which is jointly managed by the Central Institute and the University of Heidelberg. The main objective is to establish the center in the Rhine-Neckar region with a focus on “Refine” and “Reduce”, which complements the Tübingen center with a focus on “Replace” very well. The 3R-Zentrum Rhein-Neckar plans to set up a central database for animal material, activities in further education and teaching as well as open access and will offer help in designing new experiments and promote its own 3R research activities.

The head of the Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Intestinal Health at Heidelberg University , Prof. Dr. Beate Niesler, gives an insight into the complex research of intestinal diseases. The long-term goal is the generation of patient-specific 3D organoids in order to imitate individual organ functions in order to contribute to the reduction and avoidance of animal experiments.

The 3R-US network of the University of Stuttgart and the Robert Bosch Hospital is about the development of a tumor tissue platform for drug tests as a substitute for animal experiments. Prof. Dr. Monilola Olayioye from the Institute for Cell Biology and Immunology at the University of Stuttgart explains how tumor models from biomaterials and cells can be built using 3D printing processes as a natural replacement system for animal experiments.

Prof. Dr. Marcel Leist, Director of CAAT-Europe (Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing in Europe), the transatlantic alliance between the University of Konstanz and Johns Hopkins University, explains how research and harmonization measures can promote the acceptance of new animal-free approaches in various interest groups.

On the subject of “Overcoming translational hurdles – improving the evidence and predictive value in experimental research”, Dr. Ralf Watzlawick from the University of Freiburg gave a lecture.

“Refinement in complex stressful experiments on mice” explains Prof. Dr. Jan Tuckermann from Ulm University . The project aims to establish measures to reduce the exposure of mice in animal experiments.

Prof. Dr. Karen Bieback and Prof. Dr. Nicole Rotter from the University of Heidelberg will give a lecture on the “Characterization and further development of heterotypical 3D spheroids from head and neck squamous cell carcinomas”. For the establishment of individualized therapies for squamous cell carcinoma, 3D spheroids, which reflect the tumor architecture, are to be optimized and further developed.

Prof. Dr. Ralf Kemkemer from Reutlingen University provides information about the “3R-BioMED Lab” project, which aims to systematically integrate the subject of alternative and supplementary methods in animal experiments into the curriculum of the Biomedical Sciences course.

With the aim of promoting the establishment and implementation of recognized, certified 5R courses to improve the quality of animal studies in biomedical research, Prof. Dr. Jan Tuckermann from the University of Ulm dealt with two main areas, namely “Rigor” and “Reproducibility”. The aim is to recognize and reduce the stress in animal experiments (rigor) and to establish contemporary quality management (reproducibility).

Together with the “3R Center for In-Vitro Models and Alternative Animal Experiments”, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and Art and the Medical Faculty of the University of Tübingen invited to the virtual kick-off event.