Einstein Center for Alternative Methods in Biomedical Research commences work

Einstein Foundation will provide financial support amounting to 5.3 million euros until the end of 2026 Euro

No 133/2021 from Jul 08, 2021

After twelve months of preparation, the new Einstein Center for Alternative Methods in Biomedical Research will officially be launched this week. The Einstein Foundation will provide financial support amounting to ¤5.3 million until the end of 2026, but will make part of its funding subject to the Center’s positive interim assessment by the Foundation’s independent research board in 2024. The necessary funding will be made available by the State of Berlin in addition to the Einstein Foundation’s basic budget.

The aim of the Einstein Center 3R (Replace, Reduce, Refine) is to develop new therapies for human diseases by improving the transferability of research while also taking into view animal welfare. Research will focus on 3D models of human tissue designed to offer a replacement to animal testing. These special cell cultures, known as organoids, can be cultivated to resemble individual organs both in function and in structure. They open a new window into understanding and treating human diseases, and, in some areas, offer a wider scope of possibilities compared to the analysis of individual cells or animal testing. The challenge lies in developing organoids that resemble human organs as closely as possible in terms of maturity and complexity, i.e. "micro-organs" with their own vascular or immune systems.

Freie Universität was instrumental in initiating the center and is involved in it. Christa Thöne-Reineke, deputy spokesperson for the EC3R for teaching: "The expertise in this area lies in the world’s first 3R research platform Berlin-Brandenburg with an integrated graduate college (BB3R), founded in 2014." There are also numerous initiatives and pilot projects in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Freie Universität to integrate 3Rs into teaching. As examples,  Thöne-Reineke cited the SimulRATor research project funded by the Bf3R, the 3R-SMART project funded by the BMBF, and the Veterinary Skills Net, as well as the online seminar on alternative methods in research and teaching - 3R. More than 1000 participants from all over the world took part in the latter this year.

The managing director of the Institute for Animal Pathology, Achim Gruber, Ph.D emphasized, "In the Einstein Center EC3R, the Animal Pathology Department at Freie Universität and Charité are trying to make better use of the animal experiments that will still be indispensable in the next few years and thus make some new animal experiments superfluous. To do so, we fall back on a large tissue bank from former animal experiments and analyze them for new questions; thus we ’recycle.’" With the help of modern computer support and artificial intelligence, models of pneumonia, including Covid-19, are used to try to identify the similarities and differences between these pneumonia, it will be possible to understand animal models and humans much more precisely than was previously possible. Achim Gruber emphasized, "These animal experiments can only be ethically justified through a precise knowledge of their possibilities and limits as well as the transferability of their results to humans." He continued, "In this project, we are not doing a single new animal experiment, but are expanding the possible uses and understanding of past animal experiments in order to prevent, reduce, and improve new ones." This corresponds to the claim anchored in the name of the center because 3R stands for replace, reduce, and refine.

"International experts and the Einstein Foundation’s independent research board strongly support the establishment of the Einstein Center 3R. Its research approach, its structure, and the degree of collaborative exchange across its partner institutions have the potential to make Berlin a leading hub for research into alternatives to animal testing," said Günter Stock, Chair of the Einstein Foundation’s Executive Board, commenting on the Center’s funding approval.

Species-specific differences often limit the transferability of research insights gained during animal testing into practical treatment. Organoids, by contrast, offer biomedical researchers the major advantage of working directly with human cells. The Einstein Center will accommodate six research projects focusing on the intestines, lung, heart, brain, liver, and neuromuscular junctions, respectively. These will be complemented by two cross-sectional quality assurance projects designed to improve the models and define measures and principles to guide the projects’ research. In addition, the Center will set up an imaging and analysis platform in order to improve the comparability of human and animal-based models regarding the specific characteristics of diseases such as COVID-19.

The governing mayor of Berlin and the city’s senator for higher education and research, Michael Müller, said: "Together with the Charité, our universities, and our research institutes, we have done much in recent years to establish Berlin as an international research hub for exploring and developing alternatives to animal testing. The newly launched Einstein Center 3R is part of this effort, bringing together the outstanding expertise of Berlin’s pioneering and innovative biomedical researchers. With its broad network of institutions, the city is taking on a leading role across Germany and internationally.

" The founding institutions of The Einstein Center 3R are Charité - Universitätsmedizin, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin, in close cooperation with the Berlin Institute of Health, the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), and the Robert Koch Institute. The Center’s long-term aim is to build a Berlin-wide research network that explores tissue models and develops cutting-edge projects. The 3R principle, introduced by William Russell and Rex Burch, seeks to substitute animal experiments with alternatives (replace), minimize the number of animals used in experiments (reduce), and ease the amount of stress put on animals (refine). Education and training will help early career researchers to rigorously employ this principle throughout their work. Communication and outreach programs will also play a significant role in the Center’s activities.

"We are delighted that the Einstein Center 3R will now provide us with a cross-institutional framework that strengthens the role of the 3 R’s, supports the development of alternative methods, and promotes exchange among researchers and projects across Berlin," added Axel Radlach Pries, Dean of Charité - Universitätsmedizin.

he Einstein Foundation Berlin is an independent, not-for-profit, science-led organization established as a foundation under civil law. It promotes international cutting-edge science and research across disciplines and institutions in and for Berlin. To date, it has funded 172 researchers, including three Nobel laureates, 71 projects and six Einstein Centers.  It was named "Science Foundation of the Year 2021" for its contribution to the promotion of Berlin as a research location and its internationalization measures.


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