As a necessary part of the scientific process, animals are often used in studies of disease causes and their potential treatment. But efforts — beginning with breast cancer studies — are being made to progressively reduce the reliance on animals in biomedical research.
Scientists in the U.K., in a recent commentary, describe a framework for making “surplus” material derived from animal studies more visible and accessible to the scientific community, to promote the sharing of these resources as an alternative to producing new models. The initiative aims to reduce the number of animals used in research.
The commentary, “The Sharing Experimental Animal Resources, Coordinating Holdings (SEARCH) Framework: Encouraging Reduction, Replacement, and Refinement in Animal Research,” was published in PLOS Biology.
The framework is called SEARCH (Sharing Experimental Animal Resources, Coordinating Holdings). A prototype, SEARCHBreast, was developed with funding from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), and is run by the University of Leeds together with the Barts Cancer Institute, the University of Sheffield, and the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute.
A web-based platform, SEARCHBreast lists mouse model tissues archived from breast cancer studies and redistributes them without charge to researchers.
“We know that several animals are needed to produce reliable results. But in general only a fraction of each tissue sample is required to perform an experiment. Scientists typically store the rest of the material away which is often never re-visited,” Valerie Speirs, the project’s principal investigator with the University of Leeds, said in a press release. “By using more of the available tissue, fewer animals will need to be used.”
Scientists can check the database to see if available animal materials match their needs. This option could also benefit research, because it means faster and cheaper resources than would be possible by obtaining new animal models for experiments.
“We want to foster a culture of collaboration, and by doing this, we’re reducing the number of animals needed for research all round,” Speirs said. “This is the first tissue-sharing website of its kind and I feel it’s a good contribution to make to science and to animal welfare. We have shown this concept works for breast cancer and our research shows a desire from scientists in other disciplines to adopt SEARCH in their own field.”