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News article18 September 20203 min read

Tackling respiratory diseases with advanced non-animal models

Almost 300 non-animal models can be used for research on respiratory diseases and the development of new drugs and therapies
© peshkov, adobe stock 2020

A new JRC study describes almost 300 non-animal models used for research on respiratory diseases and the development of new drugs and therapies.

Respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer are the most common of all diseases and causes of death worldwide.

However, over 90% of new candidate drugs fail to make it through clinical trials and gain market approval. Although there are several reasons for this, limitations of animal models to capture critical aspects of human physiology and disease are being increasingly cited as a critical issue.

Attention is shifting therefore to non-animal models and methods based on human relevant tools and thinking to advance our understanding of respiratory diseases and offer new hope to patients.

A knowledge base of advanced non-animal models now freely available

The study, coordinated by the JRC's EU Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM), has produced a unique knowledge base that contains detailed descriptions of nearly 300 non-animal models being used for respiratory disease research.

The knowledge base is in an easy-to-use spreadsheet format and is freely available to download from the EURL ECVAM Collection in the JRC Data Catalogue.

In building the knowledge base, over 21,000 abstracts from the scientific literature were screened and from these, a total of 284 publications were selected that described the most representative and innovative models.

"To our knowledge this is the first time that such advanced non-animal models used in biomedical sciences have been systematically collected and analysed", comments JRC scientist Laura Gribaldo. "It's been a real challenge to put all the information together in a structured and easily accessible format since there is a huge amount of heterogeneous data out there spread over a plethora of different scientific journals and electronic resources."

To complement the knowledge base, the JRC also publishes today a report analysing the models and methods identified to describe the state-of-the-art from different perspectives, including the most prevalent model types, typical contexts of use and emerging trends. A description of the review methodology used is also provided.

"Let’s take the example of lung cancer", says Laura, "Today, simple models based on cell lines are still prominent and have their uses. However our review shows that researchers are attracted more and more by sophisticated approaches based on three dimensional organoids and microfluidic lung-on-a-chip devices that can model more complex biology and disease pathways."

Many can benefit from the study results

Clearly, biomedical researchers can use the knowledge base to identify models and methods that can be adapted and applied to tackle their specific research questions. Educators can provide the latest information on the state-of-the-art to their students while funding bodies can consider trends, identify impactful research avenues and target promising areas for investment.

In addition, it is expected that the knowledge base will be of particular use to Competent Authorities in EU Member States to support the process of project evaluation, ensuring that project proposers have properly considered the use of non-animal models and methods in their research proposals.

More to come

The JRC's EURL ECVAM is also undertaking a series of studies to review non-animal models and methods in several other disease areas, including breast cancer, immune oncology, autoimmunity, cardiovascular disease, and immunogenicity of advanced medicinal products. These particular areas have been selected based on disease incidence and prevalence, the reliance of related research on animal models, and the amount of animal procedures conducted.

"Using non-animal models in biomedical research makes scientific sense", comments Maurice Whelan, JRC scientist and head of EURL ECVAM. "We really hope this knowledge base will inspire scientists who currently rely on animal models for their research – we want to stimulate healthy scientific debate, to challenge mind-sets, and to pave the way for doing better and more human relevant science without animals."

As recently reported, in 2017 the EU used approximately 10 million animals in experimental procedures with about 70% of those being used for disease related research. As set out in Directive 2010/63/EU for the protection of animals for scientific purposes, the final goal of EU policy is the full replacement of animal experiments as soon as scientifically possible.

Further information

JRC Technical Report: Advanced Non-animal Models in Biomedical Research - Respiratory Tract Diseases

Executive Summary

JRC Data Catalogue

Related Content

JRC Technical report: Advanced Non-animal Models in Biomedical Research - Respiratory Tract Diseases

Executive summary

JRC Data Catalogue

Review of advanced non-animal models in biomedical research


Publication date
18 September 2020