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Outstanding research on improving animal welfare in science

This news release is available in German.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) will award the Ursula M. Hndel Animal Welfare Prize, which recognises scientists who have improved the welfare of animals used in research, for the fifth time this year. The prize of 100,000 euros will be awarded to Professor Thomas Korff, who researches diseases of the vascular system at the Institute for Physiology and Pathophysiology at the University of Heidelberg, for his exemplary application of the principles of the 3Rs (replacement, refinement and reduction). Professor Korff has developed various ways to minimise the distress experienced by animals used in experiments and reduce the number of animals required. He has also found alternative methods to animal testing.

DFG President Professor Peter Strohschneider will present the Ursula M. Hndel Animal Welfare Prize to Thomas Korff on 20 March 2014 in Berlin. "The question for the DFG is to consider how science, which will not be able to do without animal testing entirely, can contribute to reducing the number of such experiments and to improve testing conditions to minimise animal distress," said Professor Strohschneider on the announcement of the prizewinner. A workshop on the subject of "Animal Models in Research Opportunities and Limitations" will take place before the award ceremony.

A jury chose the new recipient of the animal welfare prize from among nine applications. It was especially impressed by the winner's consistent application of knowledge gained from basic research in implementing the 3Rs in biomedical research. It also highlighted the relevance of Korff's new and enhanced methods to a broad range of research, from cardiovascular physiology to research into tumours. Korff's findings and methods have already been taken up by the pharmaceutical industry. "The prize awarded to Thomas Korff acknowledges not only successful individual developments but also his overall contribution to animal welfare in biomedical research," said Professor Gerhard Heldmaier, Chair of the DFG Senate Commission on Animal Protection and Experimentation, following the jury's decision.

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).

The DFG promotes open and unprejudiced dialogue between the research community, the public and policy-makers. It is therefore inviting researchers, the media, members of parliament and other representatives from the political sphere to a workshop that will accompany the presentation of the Ursula M. Hndel Animal Welfare Prize on 20 March. The award ceremony will begin at 5:30 pm in the WissenschaftsForum in Berlin. The workshop, which will take place prior to the award ceremony, will be held from 11:30 am to 5 pm in the Einstein Room of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Using selected examples, it will highlight the successes of research on animal models and the prospects for future development. There will also be a discussion of the limitations of this methodological concept, particularly of the heuristic and ethical problems and the complex issue of how the findings can be applied in other contexts.


Contact: Marco Finetti
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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