Press Release No. 6 | 13 February 2009
Reducing Animal Experiments through Top-class Research
DFG awards Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize to research team from Hanover for innovative test procedure
The haematologist Professor Christopher Baum and his colleagues Dr. Ute Modlich and Sabine Knöß have been awarded the 2009 Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize. The prize was awarded to this research team from the Hannover Medical School (Medizinische Hochschule Hannover, MHH) in recognition of their novel testing system for use in the development of gene therapies that significantly reduces the number of animal experiments required. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) awards the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize to researchers and scientists who have made an exemplary and sustained effort to improve animal welfare in research. This is the third time that this biennial prize has been awarded, after having been awarded in 2004 and 2006 and this year is accompanied by an award of EUR 50,000.
"In hardly any other area of research is the dilemma of ethical considerations as evident as in animal experimentation. There are still many scientific problems for which animal experiments are essential. Nevertheless, a lot of progress has been made to improve animal welfare", said the President of the DFG, Professor Matthias Kleiner, on the occasion of the award ceremony in Bonn, where Professor Baum and his colleagues received the prize on Friday the 13th of February. On the basis of the German Animal Welfare Act and its high standards, researchers and scientists are seeking alternative methods in order to reduce the number of animal experiments required, Kleiner continued. The improvement in experimental conditions is also the subject of many studies, in order to reduce the stress placed on the animals used for experiments.
In the opinion of the DFG and the independent award panel this team that has now been awarded the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize achieves these goals, even in a very topical field of research that is likely to be of increasing importance both for medicine as well as for human health in general. The in vitro immortalisation assay (IVIM) method developed by Professor Baum and his team helps improve the chances of success for gene therapy. This aims to repair defective genes by introducing intact genes, which it is hoped that it will be possible to treat metabolic diseases or severe immunodeficiencies, for instance. However, this depends on the gene that has been introduced being inserted in exactly the right position in the genome - otherwise the gene therapy could have devastating consequences for the patient. In the past, complex animal experiments requiring as many as 100 animals per test series have been used to keep this risk to a minimum. Although the newly developed IVIM assay does still use animals, they are primarily only used as cell donors. The actual test series, the introduction of the gene, can however be performed in a cell culture and in the test tube and now no longer needs to be performed in vivo. This significantly reduces the number of animal experiments required and the number of animals used and is also able to produce more accurate results faster. Due to these advantages, this method has the potential to become established as a standard procedure in the medium term.
By awarding the prize to the team of three researchers from Hanover the DFG is also giving recognition to the combination of top-class research with sustainable use to improve animal welfare. It also highlights the fact that this achievement was a team effort. Apart from Christopher Baum, who is the Head of the Department of Experimental Haematology at the MHH, Ute Modlich, as the leader of the workgroup, and Sabine Knöß as the principal medical technical assistant, also made a significant contribution towards this achievement.
The Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize, which has now been awarded for the third time, was created on the initiative of its eponymous founder. Ursula M. Händel, born in Düsseldorf in 1915, was involved in many different aspects of animal welfare for many years. Amongst her other achievements, she founded the "Bonner Arbeitskreis für Tierschutzrecht" (Bonn Working Association for Animal Welfare Legislation), which contributed towards the amendments to German animal welfare legislation. The welfare of animals in science and research was always one of Ms Händel's particular concerns. This was the reason why she donated a considerable sum to the DFG to be used for this prize to fund one or more research projects which aim to improve the welfare of animals in research, reduce the number of animal experiments or avoid the need for them completely by providing alternative methods.
How this so-called 3Rs concept of reduction, refinement and replacement of the use of animals in research may be pursued even more actively and promisingly in Germany in future was also the subject of a round-table discussion held be the DFG before the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize award ceremony. At this round-table discussion, researchers and scientists from a wide variety of subject areas discussed a number of topics, including the possibilities for the use of other in-vitro assay methods and imaging techniques, fundamental issues and rules of good conduct with respect to animal welfare as well as ways to optimise the way in which animal experiments are performed and how animals are kept.
Detailed information about the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize and Ursula M. Händel is available online at
For information about the prize from the DFG, or if you have any questions about animal experimentation in research, please contact
- Dr. Sonja Ihle, Life Sciences Division 2, Tel. +49 228 885-2658, Sonja.Ihle@dfg.de.