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How does Corona confinement affect Helpathons?

Pepik: We are now (in Corona times) experimenting with online Helpathons, if successful this would mean a potential breakthrough as it will allow us to draw resources from all over the world. Check out the first online TPI Helpathon.

Why is replacing animal experimentation with non-animal alternatives important to you?

Sue: Current animal methods do not represent fully human physiology and therefore result in many drugs not progressing into clinical trials due to early stage failure or do enter clinical trials but result in adverse effects which were not identified when testing on animals. We want to teach scientists to step away from their trusted animal models and to use more representative human models for their research to develop safer and better drugs for patients who need them.

What is your strategy to explore innovative animal free models?

Pepik: Nobody likes to finance, prescribe or carry out tests on animals, especially when these tests turn out to be less meaningful than other research methods. We find that all the researchers, financers and regulators are open to talk about new animal free research methods. Next to being open, just like in any transformation process, the transition towards animal free research methods requires a lot of effort and resources to develop new practices and to adopt these new practices.

What are the most rewarding parts of being involved in a Helpathon and the most challenging?

Sue: Rewarding parts are seeing a scientist’s attitude changing from being slightly defensive about their animal experiments to them slowly realising that really exciting alternatives are available and that we really will help them to reach their new goal. Most challenging part is the unexpected. We do not prepare the workshop in detail before the Helpathon. The agenda is written by the people attending the Helpathon in the first session. This means everything and anything can happen and whatever it is it is good and is meant to be! This enables spontaneity and out of the box thinking.

Pepik: For me the main challenge is to get into a discovery mode as opposed to a contemplative mode. A Helpathon is not only about sharing what we know already, what has been scientifically proven to work. It is also about exploring new openings that we do not yet fully understand. Scientist are not used to go into this wishful dreaming mode together. But when it happens it can be very powerful and motivating. It is encouraging to notice that the researchers who dared to ask their question and explore together in Helpathon#1 and #2 are now actively developing innovative animal free practices in a way they couldn’t have dreamt of before the Helpathon.

Carine: to see the researcher realising that their research question can be answered using a different non-animal approach

Where does the idea of Helpathtons comes from

Pepik: The idea of a Helpathon was coined and tried out by Game developer Mendel Bouman during a social innovation experiment Mister Lion was running in Groningen back in 2014. Mendel imagined a Hackathon for social or societal issues.

He called for a Helpathon on social inequality in Groningen. The core of his idea was that intrinsic motivation to help others can overrule all extrinsic motivation such as organisational responsibilities, financial benefits, political gain etc… Mister Lion organized a Helpathon on long term care for elderly people in 2015. The Helpathon was first applied to a hack a research practice involving animal testing 2018 with the Dutch Burns Foundation and in 2019 with Heart Foundation.

Can anybody organize a Helpathon?

Pepik: Sure and you are welcome to join the online Helpathon course starting in September this year!

What’s next?

Pepik: Observing, reviewing and documenting carefully what is happening during the coming Helpathons to make them obsolete. It is strange that we require Helpathons to motivate each other to do something that seems so obvious to do.