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Press Release No. 34 | 29 July 2020
Händel Animal Welfare Prize 2020 for Alternative Methods to Animal Experiments in Toxicology

DFG to award prize to Thomas Hartung and Marcel Leist for major contribution to animal welfare / Award ceremony scheduled for 1 October 2020 in Giessen

Computer scientist, biochemist and medical scientist Professor Dr. Dr. Thomas Hartung from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the University of Konstanz and biochemist and toxicologist Professor Dr. Marcel Leist, also from the University of Konstanz, have been selected to receive the Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). The €80,000 prize, which is being presented for the eighth time, is awarded to researchers who improve animal welfare in research in line with the principles of the 3Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement.

“Thomas Hartung and Marcel Leist have stood for 3R research for many years, with a particular emphasis on replacement. Unlike previous prizewinners, we are not only honouring them for developing an alternative method but also for their life’s work. They have gone beyond purely basic research to make a major contribution to animal welfare,” said the chair of the DFG Senate Commission on Animal Protection and Experimentation, Professor Dr. Brigitte Vollmar, who is also on the Händel Animal Welfare Prize jury. “As co-directors of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, CAAT-Europe, in Konstanz, the two prizewinners are pioneers in the development of alternative methods in the field of toxicology and are highly regarded worldwide.”

Using information about the toxicity of a well-studied substance, the prizewinners succeeded in predicting the toxicity of a material that has not yet been researched (known as the read-across process). This makes it possible to perform toxicological assessments of chemicals without additional animal experiments and to avoid new studies accompanied by a large number of experimental animals. The prizewinners used artificial intelligence to develop the RASAR model (read-across-based structure activity relationships), which uses information from toxicological databases to make automated predictions and can therefore help to reduce the number of animal experiments.

The jury of the Händel Prize was not only impressed by the research of the two researchers into alternative methods, but also by their services in the area of method implementation and the associated gaining of acceptance in toxicology. Through the international networking of the different stakeholders (researchers, regulatory authorities, non-governmental organisations and industry) in particular, they have managed to make a major contribution to the recognition of alternative methods.

Thomas Hartung studied computer science, biochemistry and medicine. He earned his doctorate as a toxicologist in 1992 in Tübingen before taking up a post as assistant professor in Konstanz. After working for some years as CEO of Steinbeis Technology Transfer Center for In Vitro Pharmacology and Toxicology, he headed the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods in the Italian town of Ispra between 2002 and 2008. He has been a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and co-director of CAAT in Konstanz since 2009. CAAT is a joint venture between the universities in Baltimore and Konstanz and is supported by the Swiss Doerenkamp-Zbinden Foundation for Animalfree Research. Hartung is also an honorary professor in Konstanz. He has received many prizes for his research work, such as the US Society of Toxicology Enhancement of Animal Welfare Award.

Marcel Leist has been co-director of CAAT-Europe since its foundation in 2009. The biochemistry and toxicology graduate earned his doctorate in Konstanz. Following that, he worked at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbrücke before returning to the University of Konstanz to work as Head of Division. From 2000 to 2006, he worked at the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck in Copenhagen, before once again returning to Konstanz to take up the Chair of In Vitro Toxicology and Biomedicine there. Leist has received several prizes for his work, including the Animal Welfare Research Award from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

The two winners were chosen from among nine applicants. They will use the prize money of €80,000 to enable early career researchers to access 3R research. The award ceremony is scheduled for 1 October at the Interdisciplinary Centre for 3Rs in Animal Research (ICAR3R) in Giessen.

The Ursula M. Händel Animal Welfare Prize goes back to the initiative of the founder of that name. A resident of Düsseldorf, Ursula M. Händel (1915–2011) championed many forms of animal welfare over several decades. For example, she founded the Bonn Animal Welfare Legislation Working Group and was involved in the amendment of the German Animal Welfare Act. Dedicated to animal welfare in science and research, Händel provided the DFG with the financial backing for the animal welfare prize. The prize is awarded every two years.

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