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BfR method for targeted genome data comparison of humans and animals receives research prize

50/2016, 09.12.2016

Hamburg research prize awarded to the German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R) located at the BfR

On 9 December 2016, BfR scientists were awarded the Hamburg Research Prize for the Promotion of the Development of Alternative and Complementary Methods. The prize was awarded in recognition of research done on reducing the number of animal experiments. The prize-winning method is based on standardised and systematic data analysis of extensive genome data of animal models such as mice or rats and the clinical data of patients suffering from certain diseases. The method will make it easier in future for researchers to choose the optimal animal or alternative model that best represents the human situation. "This will simplify the search for suitable animal models and help avoid unnecessary animal experiments which are subsequently found to have been unsuitable for the question investigated", explains BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. The research prize was offered for the first time by the Hamburg Agency for Health and Consumer Protection and the Agency for Science, Research and Gender Equality in the form of a sponsorship award amounting to € 20,000. The prize is awarded for projects that contribute to reducing or minimising animal experiments.

Verleihung des Hamburger Forschungspreises

Dr. Matthias Steinfath (FG92), Cornelia Prüfer-Storcks (Senator for Health and Consumer protection, Hamburg), Dr. Christopher Weidner (FG92) (from left to right)

At the German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R) located at the BfR, genome data was analysed using the "Gene Set Enrichment Analysis (GSEA)" method. The goal was to develop standardised methods for the systematic analysis of extensive genome data in order to avoid incorrect interpretation and subsequent errors in selecting animal experiment models. The procedure is based on a comparison of all available biological system Omics data of the disease to be represented with the animal or alternative model. The term “Omics” describes methods for analysing complex biological samples at the level of the entire genome of transcripts, proteins or metabolites. For the GSEA method to be applied successfully, it is vital that Omics data is available for the suitable question, both with regard to the potentially suitable animal experiment models and the human diseases to be represented. This is already the case for a number of animal and alternative models as well as human diseases, for example inflammatory disorders, cardiovascular diseases, as well as cancer and respiratory, metabolic and neurological disorders.

The procedure presented can be used in basic research and in translational and applied research. In Germany in 2014, 870,358 laboratory animals were used in fundamental research and 331,580 for translational and applied research. With a total of 59 %, these areas account for the bulk of animal experiments conducted. The majority of laboratory animals used are mice and rats and, increasingly, fish. In principle, the method presented can be used for selecting the most suitable laboratory animal model and / or to exclude unsuitable laboratory animal models in any animal experiments conducted in these areas. In line with the overall numbers of animal experiments, most Omics data currently available relate to mice and rats. Thus, for example, the public NCBI/GEO database (National Center for Biotechnology Information / Gene Expression Omnibus) alone currently lists data on approximately 340,000 mouse tests and 75,000 rat tests. Due to the increased use of Omics methods it can be assumed that a constant stream of further biological system data is being published.

The BfR method can be used not only for assessing laboratory animal methods but also for evaluating cell-based alternative methods. A comparison of the biological system characteristics of clinical data with Omics data, for example from new types of 3D cell cultures, dynamic cell culture systems, or reconstructed tissue cultures, enables characterisation and verification of cell-based alternative methods.

The research results were published in the scientific journal EMBO Molecular Medicine in August 2016:

Defining the optimal animal model for translational research using gene set enrichment analysis
Christopher Weidner, Matthias Steinfath, Elisa Opitz, Michael Oelgeschläger & Gilbert Schönfelder

EMBO Molecular Medicine (Volume 8, Issue 8, pp 831 - 838)
am 1. August 2016, DOI: 10.15252/emmm.201506025

Apart from the research of the BfR, the first Hamburg research prize also honours the work of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Experiments (CAAT).

About the Bf3R

The BfR acts as the "German Centre for the Protection of Experimental Animals (Bf3R)". Throughout Germany, it coordinates all activities with the objectives of reducing animal experiments to an absolute minimum and offering the best possible protection to experimental animals. In addition, the Centre strives to inspire research activities all over the world and to facilitate scientific dialogue.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.


This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


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