Improving our understanding of asthma, while reducing animal testing

Scientist holding an animal
07 Jun 2012 11:44:50.470
A University of Nottingham academic has been awarded a prestigious national fellowship for her work to improve our understanding of asthma, while using fewer animals in the research.

Dr Amanda Tatler, in the University’s School of Clinical Sciences, has been given a David Sainsbury Fellowship from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

Her work aims to develop our understanding of the biomechanisms leading to structural changes in the airways of patients with severe asthma. She will use novel methods that significantly reduce the numbers of animals, usually mice, traditionally used to study this disease.
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Dr Tatler said: “I feel very honoured and pleased to be one of the first recipients of this fellowship. It is important morally and ethically to try to reduce the number of animals used in medical research. This award will allow me to improve our understanding of an extremely common respiratory disease whilst also developing new state of the art techniques that will ultimately allow us to reduce the number of animals required to study asthma.”

Clinically relevant

Asthma involves inflammation of the airways, excess mucous production in the airways and difficulty breathing due to a tightening feeling in the chest. Some patients with severe asthma do not respond to treatment and research is needed to investigate the mechanisms behind these severe attacks. The 5.4 million asthma sufferers in the UK cost the NHS an estimated £1 billion and the 10% of patients with severe disease that does not respond to treatment account for approximately 50% of health costs.

Dr Tatler’s research will follow three lines of investigation. In order to study changes in the airways of patients with severe asthma she will develop a model that uses slices taken from mouse lung rather than whole animal models. A single lung can yield 30 slices meaning that more tests can be carried out using material from a single animal. In addition, as the tests will be carried out on material from the same animal, there is likely to be more consistency in the results. If successful, animal use in this area of research could fall by 97%.

Individual smooth muscle cells from diseased and non-diseased human donors will also be tested to see how they contract. The results from these experiments may be more clinically relevant than tests using mouse cells and will enable a direct comparison to be made between diseased and non-diseased cells.

Replace, reduce and refine

Finally, in experiments where live mice have to be used, Dr Tatler will replace killing of the mice to determine the progress of disease with the use of state-of-the-art imaging techniques such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to observe any structural changes in the lung cells. This will dramatically decrease the numbers of animals needed as, rather than sacrifice the animals as the experiment progresses, lung function and structural changes in the airway muscle can be observed in the same animal over time.

The David Sainsbury Fellowship scheme was launched in 2011 and is named in honour of Lord Sainsbury, the former minister for science who was responsible for setting up the NC3Rs — the scientific organisation which leads the discovery, development and promotion of new ways to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research and testing (the 3Rs).

Dr Tatler is one of four exceptional scientists at an early stage in their careers who have been given a fellowship to enable them to establish independent research careers while developing alternatives to animal experimentation and improving animal welfare.

Commenting on the awards, Lord Sainsbury of Turville said: “The awards have been made to an impressive group of early career scientists who I am sure will, as a result of their fellowships, be great ambassadors - for research to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals - throughout their careers.”

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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has 40,000 students at award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘the world’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking 2011.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health. The University won a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2011, for its research into global food security.

Impact: The Nottingham Campaign, its biggest ever fund-raising campaign, will deliver the University’s vision to change lives, tackle global issues and shape the future. More news

Story credits

More information is available from Amanda Tatler, on +44 (0) 115 8231106,

Emma Thorne Emma Thorne - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5793 Location: University Park

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