PA 81/09 Researchers from The University of Nottingham will be in Westminster today to talk to MPs about how innovative scientific advances could reduce the need for animal experimentation in the quest to find new treatments for the painful degenerative joint condition osteoarthritis.
Dr Ali Mobasheri, Associate Professor and Reader in Comparative Physiology at the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, and PhD postgraduate student Abigail Clutterbuck will showcase their research at a poster event organised by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) in the House of Lords.
Their work has been chosen as fine examples of research supporting the ethos of the centre, which provides a UK focus for the promotion, development and implementation of the 3Rs — replacement, refinement and reduction — in animal research and testing. Dr Mobasheri and Abigail both conduct research into developing our understanding of osteoarthritis, a painful and debilitating condition, which is the most common cause of joint disease in both humans and pets. It is hoped that by finding out more about how the condition progresses, new treatments and therapies can be developed to help relieve the symptoms of sufferers, which can include pain, inflammation and loss of mobility.
Current methods of studying the disease can involve artificially recreating the condition in animals used for experimentation. This can be done by injecting the joints of animals with substances that will cause inflammation or even by surgically severing the cruciate ligament of the knee, which is associated with the onset of the disease. The animal is often then put to sleep so that their tissues can be examined in greater detail.
The work of the Nottingham researchers is focused on using innovative new methods to obtain tissue from material discarded from food producing animals which are killed in abattoirs to go into the food chain.
Dr Mobasheri’s research centres on the development of tissue engineering for regenerative medicine. This involves taking bone marrow stem cells from animals to grow tissues in the lab on 3-D scaffolds. It is hoped that one day it could lead to revolutionary treatments for OA where the patient’s own stem cells could be used to grow new tissue to replace that which has been damaged by the disease.
Abigail’s research is looking at the identification of biomarkers — or early indicators — that could predict the onset of the disease in people and animals. This involves incubating cartilage from the fetlock joints of horses euthanized at abattoirs for reasons other than research, in the lab with a solution that allows cell survival along with a substance called Interleukin-1β — a protein that initiates and sustains inflammation — to simulate early stage OA. Abigail then identifies and measures the proteins that are released from the cartilage in response to the stimulation. It is hoped that by discovering proteins released from the cartilage in the lab, they may be eventually used as markers that can be measured in the blood or synovial fluid of patients in the early stages of the disease. In this way, preventative measures could then be taken to reduce the progression of the disease. The key important feature of Abigail’s research is that she does not create arthritis in live animals and no animal is put down for her research. All her material is taken from horse limbs that are surplus to the requirements of the meat industry. By using this cartilage she can stimulate it to become osteoarthritic in the lab, thereby eliminating the need to surgically create arthritis in live animals.
Dr Mobasheri said: “Improved treatments for heart disease and cancer mean that we are now living longer than ever before and, as we become an ageing population, degenerative diseases such as osteoarthritis are going to place a huge burden on the NHS. Research into this area is vital if new therapies are to be discovered and by using techniques similar to those we are developing, hopefully that can be achieved while limiting unnecessary suffering to experimental animals.
“In the US scientists are extremely active in engaging with politicians through congress but in the UK we simply don’t have the same lobbying power. This event will be tremendously important in helping parliamentarians understand more about the latest advances in science and to help break down any worries or misconceptions they may have, particularly about the area of stem cell research.”
The event at the House of Lords is being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the 3Rs and participating researchers will show posters of their research work for each of the areas of replacement, refinement and reduction for the chance to win £3,000. It will be attended by MPs, Peers and other stakeholders, including Lord Sainsbury, the former Minister for Science and Innovation, who is among the sponsors.