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Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthCAAT

CAAT Newsletter: Vol. 14, No. 2, Winter 1997

Conference Highlights: World Congress Views

[Several attendees at the World Congress were asked to provide a personal perspective on the meeting. These articles express the viewpoints of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of CAAT.]

Myra O. Barker, Ph.D.
Mary Kay Holding Company, Dallas, TX

The 2nd World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences was held October 20-24, 1996 in Utrecht, The Netherlands, with Professors Bert van Zutphen and Michael Balls as Co-ordinating Chairs. With over 900 attendees from 37 countries, this congress was a successful follow-up to 1993's 1st World Congress in Baltimore. The congress attracted coverage from Dutch television and newspapers as well as Science, Nature, and other journals.

Though much progress has been made since the 1st World Congress, participants expressed frustration at how much remains to be accomplished. Much attention was focused on the cosmetic industry's efforts to validate alternative safety tests, with the January 1998 deadline for a ban on animal testing in Europe fast approaching. Some alternatives, particularly tests for percutaneous penetration and phototoxicity, show promise; replacements for the Draize rabbit eye test and various subchronic and chronic tests appear years away.

My own perspective on important changes apparent in Utrecht would include: (1) Widespread acceptance of the concept of validation; (2) Greater cooperation among regulators, industry, and animal advocates, particularly in Europe; (3) Recognition of the important role of ICCVAM in the U.S.; (4) Progress toward building usable databases of published and non-published material.

Several companies that promoted commercial alternative-method test kits at the 1st World Congress have now disappeared, raising questions about whether viable commercial enterprises can be sustained in this field. Additionally, patented alternative methods cannot be accepted for regulatory purposes by OECD unless all details are disclosed, leaving entrepreneurs in this field in doubt about protection of intellectual property as well as business success. These two factors provoked interesting debates in Utrecht.

While some of the highest-profile presentations were made in plenary sessions in the congress hall, little audience participation took place there. Passionate and candid debates were reserved for the smaller meetings. Posters were rather poorly attended, varied in quality, and in many cases presented old findings already seen elsewhere. The congress schedule was so crowded that delegates found little time for informal collegial discussions. Highlights of the congress included Hackbarth's delightful lecture "The Porcelain Mouse," Professor W.M.S. Russell's lecture, singing and dancing (if you didn't see it, order the videotape!), the Russell and Burch Reception at Utrecht's Railroad Museum, and the closing banquet's phenomenal dessert buffet and animal-theme necktie awards.

The 3rd World Congress is to convene August 29-September 2, 1999 in Bologna, Italy, with Professors Michael Balls and Andrew Rowan co-chairing. I look forward to a strong scientific program, debate and discussion, and also to pasta, vino, and more songs from Professor Russell!

R.M. Baker
Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching
   Executive Officer, ANZCCART

The World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences conference was hosted by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Utrecht University, as part of its 175th anniversary celebrations. It was attended by over 900 delegates, including 13 from Australia and three from New Zealand. Because of the large number of registrants, the program comprised morning and afternoon plenary sessions, and four concurrent platform sessions, together with a workshop, each morning and afternoon. Each platform session included between four and eight papers.

I attended the following sessions: Animal welfare and ethics (where I gave my paper "Animal Welfare" a new postgraduate subject at the University of Adelaide. This was well-received by the audience and considerable interest was shown after the session); Refinement of environmental conditions; Communication/databases; Ethics committees; National/regional developments in alternatives and animal use; Humane endpoints.

The plenary lectures were excellent. I particularly enjoyed "The Three Rs Concept of Alternatives and Animal Experimentation" delivered by Professor Michael Balls, ECVAM, Italy; "Animal Experimentation and Pluralist Politics" by Dr. Robert Garner, University of Leicester, UK; "Ethical Principles and Animal Research" by Professor Andrew Brennan, University of Western Australia, and last but not least the special lecture "A Festival of Animals" by Professor Bill Russell, co-author with Rex Burch of the famous text book of 1959.

There was a very wide cross-section of the scientific community represented, particularly from the U.K. and Europe. This provided the opportunity for interaction with old colleagues and to meet new ones. For example, useful discussion was held with Dr. Donald Boisvert, Executive Director of the Canadian Council on Animal Care, and with Dr. Gilly Griffin, the CCAC's Scientific Editor. ANZCCART was to some extent modelled on the CCAC and the two bodies have much in common. Talks were held with Mrs. Jean Larson of the US National Agricultural Library's Animal Welfare Information Center and with Mr. David Anderson, a librarian at the University of California's Center for Animal Alternatives, regarding how to search for alternatives. This is easier said than done. I met Professor Adrian Smith, who initiated and maintains the NORINA database. ANZCAART contributed funds to assist in the creation of a mirror site for NORINA in Sydney. Many other meetings and discussions were held.

A number of persons associated with ANZCAART attended and those to whom I have spoken since returning from the Congress have spoken very favorably of their experience. The Congress program was interesting and covered a very wide range of interests. Unfortunately, due to the number of concurrent sessions, this inevitably meant missing many potentially interesting papers and workshop sessions.

The organization was excellent and the venue was good. The social program was enjoyable and the catering was excellent. My only complaint was lack of time to explore Utrecht and Amsterdam and this was my loss. I look forward to the next Congress in Bologna and to enjoying the Renaissance influence of the city and of its host Professor Michael Balls.

Adele Douglass
American Humane Association
 Director, Washington D.C. office

On October 20, 1996 I attended the Second World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences at Utrecht, the Netherlands. Erica Terpstra, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport of the Netherlands opened the Congress. In her speech, Terpstra stressed that the role of governments with regard to animal experimentation is very delicate and complicated. She said that Government's role is to be the guardian of public health as well as having a moral obligation to practice a responsible stewardship. She talked about the discussions surrounding the new "Experiments on Animals Act," and how the discussions truly reflected the openness of all elements of Dutch society: It can truly be said to be an act accepted not only by the scientists, but also by animal welfare supporters." Ms. Terpstra continued, " I am happy that nowadays the welfare of animals is a concept which is deeply embedded in popular consciousness. This represents a major step forward from the attitudes of days gone by, when the status of animals as subjects to the whims of man went unchallenged."

Ms. Terpstra used a sports analogy describing science and sport both having competition as one of its major driving forces. She said, "Above all, the limits of what is possible should always be challenged." In several countries, governments, industry and animal welfare organizations are working together to stimulate the development and application of alternative methods...As state secretary I consider the activities of such a platform so important that last year I increased the budget by one million guilders per year, for the next four years."

Let's contrast that with the First World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Baltimore, Maryland in 1993. Dr. Ken Olden, the Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) was the highest ranking government official speaking at the Baltimore conference. My recollection was that he said very little about alternatives in his talk. There seemed to be very little U.S. government involvement and support for these programs in Baltimore.

In 1993, when the NIH Reauthorization bill was passed by Congress, language was included which gave the National Toxicology Program (NTP) the task of developing and validating alternatives. The NTP is part of the NIEHS which is in turn part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a result of this legislation, the Interagency Coordinating Committee for Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) was created. This committee, currently spearheaded by Dr. Bill Stokes of NIEHS, was in imminent danger of going out of business. The mandate of ICCVAM was to issue guidelines on validation and regulatory acceptance of alternatives and this should be published by early 1997.

Fortunately for Dr. Olden's leadership, he has recently advised the agencies currently participating in the Ad Hoc ICCVAM that the NTP will be establishing a permanent inter-agency committee that will be put into place early next year. This permanent subcommittee will help implement the plan, provide workshops and create an Internet web site. There is no annual budget, however the committee will receive some limited funding from existing NTP resources. Clearly, the proposed committee will need significant levels of funding to make this program move forward at a pace that will ensure meaningful progress.

In Europe, the European Center for Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) was created by the European Union and has the commitment of the Member Nations of the European Union. ECVAM has its own building, staff and an annual budget of millions of dollars.

Although the NIEHS has made significant efforts, we cannot see the same results for the rest of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is mandated by law to provide periodic review of its programs via a biannual report to Congress. We are awaiting the first bi-annual report. The NIH is also mandated to provide education and training as well as encourage acceptance of these new methods. How can the NIH do that without even a data base which would list current refinement, reduction and replacement alternative methods? How do you encourage acceptance without any way to get the word out? How do you educate and train scientists in the new methods if there is no information base? There is currently no database of alternative test methods and no grants have been awarded to develop a database.

The differences I saw in Utrecht and Baltimore are simple. In Utrecht, it appeared that there was a real coalition of European government, industry and animal protection organizations to move forward on the development and validation of alternatives. What I saw in Baltimore was a coalition of American industry and animal protection groups but where was (is) the U.S. government?

[Editors Note: The next issue of the CAAT Newsletter will cover current federal initiatives related to alternatives development and implementation.]

Sherry Ward, Francis Kruszewski, and A. Wallace Hayes
The Gillette Company, Boston, MA

The second World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, held in Utrecht, The Netherlands, brought together individuals with diverse backgrounds to discuss progress being made in research, development, and application of alternatives to animals in the life sciences. Significant progress was especially evident in the area of alternative method validation and international harmonization. Many World Congress participants agreed that progress in implementing the 3Rs has occurred and has resulted in significant reductions in animal use. The choice of Andrew Rowan and Micheal Festing as the recipients of the Humane Society's Russell and Burch Award and the CAAT Recognition Award, respectively, was well deserved. The highlight of the meeting was the wonderfully entertaining and informative presentation by Professor Russell.

The Congress was a valuable experience for Gillette scientists because it fostered mutual understanding by participants regarding the interactions of animal welfare principles, good science, and economy as the drivers in the development of alternatives. A consequence of discussions among all involved with the science and politics of alternative development can do no less than generate a realistic approach to the need for specific alternatives for intended applications. In fact, as a result of Gillette's long-standing commitment to the 3Rs of Russell and Burch, Gillette was able to announce that no laboratory animals were used to test personal care or other consumer products or ingredients in 1996. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate completely the use of animals in our product safety testing program.

The competitiveness of manufacturers hinges on the ability to develop and market new products. Organizations that have to engage in product safety testing are confronted with the dilemma of a technological discontinuity--the dilemma of needing to adopt animal replacement test methods while, unfortunately, having at the present no validated and regulatory-accepted test methods.

We left the 1996 World Congress with the impression that opportunities for mechanistic-based assays and validated alternative methods await us in the near future but only if we make the conscious strategic choice to embrace the opportunity for bold thinking and bold responses. We must support those actions needed to create the technological breakthroughs and cooperative R&D efforts so that we can move forward toward the goal of having appropriate methods to assure the safety of both consumers and workers, as well as the environment.