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Archive: Ursula M. Händel Prize

Prizewinners 

2018: Prof. Dr. Ellen Fritsche and PD Dr. Dr. Hamid Reza Noori

Prof. Dr. Ellen Fritsche, a toxicologist from the Leibniz Research Institute for Environmental Medicine at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, and PD Dr. Dr. Hamid Reza Noori, a mathematician, physicist and medical scientist from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tübingen, are to be presented with the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). The prize which is worth €50,000 each is being presented for the seventh time. It is awarded to researchers who improve animal welfare in research in line with the principles of the 3Rs: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction.

The winners were chosen from among 16 nominees. So impressive were the candidates that the jury decided that this year’s prize should be shared. Fritsche is to be awarded the prize for the development of a test system for chemical effects, which has the potential to fully replace animal experiments currently required by law for toxicological testing. Noori is being recognised for his use of big data in neurobiology, which has the potential to significantly reduce the use of animal experimentation.

Prof. Dr. Ellen Fritsche

In her research Prof. Dr. Ellen Fritsche uses neurospheres, organ-like cell cultures which can be used to test the toxicity of a substance to brain development. This cell culture method has the potential to replace animal experimentation and identify chemicals that cause damage during the development of the nervous system. Because the neurospheres are grown from human stem cells, the results of the neurotoxicity studies allow a more accurate assessment of the risks of chemical substances to humans than is possible with animal studies, where the results are not always fully transferable to humans.

Fritsche and her working group intend to use the prize money to further develop their neurosphere models in partnership with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) to enable reliable characterisation of the effects of neurotoxic substances and recognition of the test system, as a replacement for the currently required animal experiments.

PD Dr. Dr. Hamid Reza Noori

PD Dr. Dr. Hamid Reza Noori uses new approaches in mathematics, data mining and machine learning to evaluate the wealth of data published in recent decades from neurobiological research on rats. Through the complex analysis of existing data, Noori was able to identify the biochemical circuits in the rat brain which are essential to information processing – without conducting a single animal experiment.

Noori is now making the data from what currently amounts to nearly 150,000 rats available in two open access databases, which researchers all over the world can use to address research questions relating to neuroanatomy and neuropharmacology. The databases will help scientists to answer research questions in silico – by analysing existing data – or to plan new experiments more stringently. The use of big data in preclinical neuroscience offers considerable potential for animal welfare in research.

2016: Research Team at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) will award the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize for the sixth time this year. The prize recognises important scientific results that contribute to improving the welfare of animals used in research. The 2016 award, which is endowed with 100,000 euros, goes to Dr. Birgit Kegel and Dr. Beate Krämer together with four other members of the working group they head. The team works in the veterinary medicine department at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut, the Federal Institute for Vaccines and Biomedicines, in Langen. It has developed a form of testing that can be used in place of experiments that have been necessary up to now but stressful to animals. The prize recognises the researchers’ outstanding contribution to implementing the principle of the 3Rs (reduction, refinement and replacement).

DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider will present the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize in Bonn on 28 September 2016. In announcing the winners, Strohschneider said: “Animal experiments are nonetheless essential to basic research in biology and medicine. For the DFG the issue is how research can simultaneously reduce the number of experiments and minimise the distress imposed on the animals.”

This year’s recipients, selected from 14 applications by a jury of scientists, were awarded for developing a method to replicate a complex biological mechanism in a cell culture. The development of the new form of testing makes a special contribution to implementing the 3Rs as this method can render a large number of exceedingly stressful animal experiments, affecting more than 600,000 animals per year, unnecessary.

The team of researchers headed by Dr. Kegel and Dr. Krämer succeeded in developing a cellular system that artificially replicates the relevant mechanisms of the harmful effects of botulinum neurotoxins and can therefore be used for testing the toxins. The botulinum neurotoxins produced by bacteria cause muscular paralysis in humans and animals. This property makes neurotoxins an important active ingredient in drugs for the treatment of a wide range of neurological illnesses in addition to their application in cosmetics. Prior to their application in medical and cosmetic products, the active agents have to be tested on mice as standard procedure. There are two types of botulinum neurotoxins. The researchers have already developed and published an alternative procedure for one of them; now they are planning to refine the in vitro method for the other neurotoxin. The researchers are planning to use the prize money for an international ring study that is required before the new form of testing can be introduced as a standard method.

2014: Prof. Thomas Korff

Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize to be awarded to physiologist Thomas Korff , who researches diseases of the vascular system at the Institute for Physiology and Pathophysiology at the University of Heidelberg.

A jury chose the new recipient of the animal welfare prize from among nine applications. The prize of 100,000 euros will be awarded on 20 March in Berlin. The prize recognises scientists who have improved the welfare of animals used in research.

One focus of Thomas Korff's research is to explain the mechanisms which lead to pathological changes in the vascular system. These include angiogenesis (new formations of blood vessels triggered by tumour growth) and the development of arteriosclerotic plaques and varicose veins. By characterising proteins which control the so-called "smooth" muscle cells in the walls of the blood vessels, he is helping to explain conditions such as high blood pressure. These findings can point towards new ways to prevent vascular disease and to deliberately stimulate desirable growth in the blood vessels.

Korff uses systematically developed cell culture systems to investigate reactions in individual cells in vascular change. This alternative method enables very distressing animal experiments to be avoided, thereby contributing significantly to the replacement and reduction aspects of the 3Rs. More complex changes in the wall of a blood vessel can only be studied on a living organism. Korff has developed new methods in this area as well which allow the formation of blood vessels to be observed on the ear of a mouse and which replace the previously necessary animal experiments which involved interrupting the blood flow to larger organs (an application of the refinement principle).

2011: Research Team at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf as well as Dr. Maria Moreno-Villanueva and Alexander Bürkle

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has once again honoured scientists who are improving animal welfare in research. The DFG has awarded the 2011 Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize to Dr. Arne Hansen, Alexander Eder, Sebastian Schaaf und Professor Thomas Eschenhagen from the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf, and to Dr. Maria Moreno-Villanueva and Professor Alexander Bürkle from the University of Konstanz. The prize, endowed with 50,000 euros, will be shared between the two winning teams. It was presented on January 24 in Berlin, at a DFG event that brought together scientists, politicians and the general public for a dialogue on animal testing and animal welfare.

Prof. Thomas Eschenhagen and his research team

The research team around Thomas Eschenhagen at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf investigates the effects of pharmacological substances on the human heart. Testing of these cardiac effects has usually been done on animals. The scientists in Hamburg are developing an innovative alternative method using human embryonic stem cells. From these, the researchers differentiate tissue that has the properties of heart muscle tissue and can be used very flexibly to screen the agents. It allows them to simulate and control heartbeat strength and frequency as well as other important test parameters. This method, which is already in the advanced stages of its development and has been published in internationally recognised scientific journals, also makes it possible to conduct and analyse tests in a largely automated fashion.

Prof. Alexander Bürkle and Dr. Maria Moreno-Villanueva

The prizewinners from Konstanz, Maria Moreno-Villanueva and Alexander Bürkle, examine genotoxicity, which is the altering effect of chemical substances on the genetic material of cells. Previously, this would require large quantities of serum obtained from bovine foetuses. In contrast, the prizewinning method injects into the cells a dye that fluoresces in varying ways depending on the effect of the substance being tested. Its intensity is greatest if the cell’s DNA is preserved as a double strand, which indicates that no genotoxicity is present. Conversely, the intensity of the dye lessens when double-stranded DNA decreases and single-stranded DNA increases. This points to breaks in the genetic material and thus genotoxicity. This patent-pending method is likewise highly automated and allows a large number of substances to be tested within a short time.