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Last update 20/12/2023

HELPATHON #9: Exploring Animal-Free Antibodies

A big thank you to the thirty helpers who participated in the 9th Helpathon!

Before you read any further, spread the word: it is possible to use animal free antibodies and Animal Free Research UK is bringing a database online very soon! The development has been completed, they are currently on boarding suppliers. The launching date has not been set yet.

It was fascinating to discover how, over millions of years, antibodies have developed. How our bodies create antibodies sticking to particular molecules in particular cells, transforming themselves by muting their genetic material to attune and stick even more. The more an antibody sticks, the better our body can deal with particular unwanted cells. Ingeniously, this natural ability is used to trace and visualize cells in in- vitro biomedical research. Even more we can characterize existing antibodies and combine them to create new ones that stick even better.

This Helpathon team put significant effort into generating practical and feasible ideas to help Juan Garcia-Vallejo explore, how his and other universities can transition their facilities towards animal-free antibodies. Juan is an experienced immunologist and director of the cutting-edge O2 Flow facility for cytometry and cell sorting at the Amsterdam VU University Medical Center.

Six weeks after the Helpathon Juan and his team has taken up most of the suggested action:

✅ The green fridge
As communicating existing possibilities is key, they imagined a university campus Green Team Ambassadors picking up the responsibility of sharing what animal free options are available now. This intrinsically motivated ambassador could also be running a green fridge full of samples from suppliers to be tried out now by researchers.

Juan: “We are already setting this up in our core facility and hopefully the animal-free antibody fridge will be already full with samples early 2024. Research analyst Taco Waaijman has been assigned this responsibility, and he is very efficiently reaching out to various companies to collect samples of animal-free antibodies.”

✅ Business plan
The Helpathon team also produced the beginning of a business plan for core facilities, such as Juan’s, to develop their own new animal-free antibodies that meet the specific needs of their researchers. This is not only perfectly feasible but also a worthwhile investment from a business perspective. Please find attached how Juan is incorporating these results

Juan: “We followed up on this idea with several researchers from the Department of Molecular Cell Biology & Immunology (Jasper Koning, Joke de Haan, Reina Mebius, and Sue Gibbs), and we are in the process of preparing a grant application to explore this avenue in 2024, with the generous support offered by Proefdiervrij as a matching donation for the grant project (...) Altogether, Helpathon #9 was an amazing experience and set in motion numerous activities that I am sure will have a tremendous impact on replacing traditional antibodies with animal-free antibodies.”

Please find the full update from Juan HERE

HELPATHON #8: Matrigel and FCS alternatives on the move!

A big thank you to the 40 researchers and company representatives participating in Helpathon #8! ‘I was wonderfully surprised when the participating companies openly shared their real research data with us describing exactly what was already out there for us.’ says Sue. Just look for yourself at the 5 minute documentary, the energy was strong. And Sue has already submitted a project proposal with participating companies to bring animal free organoids further. ‘We want to transition from FCS and Matrigel to animal free culture media and hydrogels, and to prepare standardized procedures which will be available for everybody in this research field. Some of the companies, not only had FCS free, but also totally animal free (xeno-free) media which they thought would work for our cell cultures.’

This was the first Helpathon for Margot. As an excellent project manager she had to trust the organic meandering nature of the process:’ Having so many people participating from Dutch academia, international academia, companies involved in finding animal-free alternatives for Matrigel and FCS as well as other organizations was truly inspiring (...). I promised that I would make the results available to others to avoid duplication of efforts, so you will hear from me in the future.’

The whole experience revealed both the locked in mindsets and emerging new possibilities: ‘Matrigel is seen as the golden standard for stem cell culture and people have difficulty moving away from it. However, this Helpathon has shown me that there are many alternatives currently in the pipeline at several companies and some are already on the market. It really helped me that so many people shared their experiences and wisdom on ECM matrixes, as this will make the optimization much more efficient’ says Germaine.

HELPATHON #7: in the UK!

As TPI Helpathon team we have been assisting Animal Free Research UK in organizing their first animal free innovation Helpathon from 11 – 12 October 2022 in London, UK.

Jesmond Dalli and Duco Koenis needed help!
Professor Jesmond Dalli and Dr Duco Koenis from Barts, the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and Queen Mary University, wanted to identify animal free research methods to discover novel drug targets for resolving inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis and bacterial infections. Over 30 inflammation researchers, NAMs experts, data analysts, policy makers, funders, clinicians, patients and students helped them. Sue, Jan en Pepik from the TPI Helpathon team were there as well.

Whilst helping them find animal free research methods, we sketched out together the contours for a roadmap towards animal free innovation in the UK.

Since the Helpathon Carla Owen, Chair of the Alliance for Human Relevant Science and CEO of Animal Free Research UK, has been reflecting on what stood out and she has identified two themes that merit further exploration: Practical, detailed steps that policymakers and scientists can take to transition to human-relevant research; - A reimagined healthcare system that prioritises prevention as well as treatment.

Building on work Animal Free Research UK and the Alliance for Human Relevant Science has undertaken roadmaps developed by other stakeholders, and inspired by progress made in the Netherlands, Carla and colleagues are developing? a concrete UK Transition Plan that will take us forward to a future where human-relevant research is the norm.

This will involve holding stakeholder workshops to discuss what needs to happen to support researchers to transition: what practical support they need, what new models are yet to be developed, what sort of funding and tools are required, what scientists need more of, and what they need that doesn’t yet exist…

“The arrival of Helpathons in the UK will help scientists transition to a human-relevant future that is good for research, patients and animals.” – Carla

See also Animal Free Research UK...

HELPATHON #6: A new momentum

The Helphaton Hotel

A big thank you to all the participants! Sue Gibbs is very happy! So what happened? Well we did it! We started by reiterating, again, the doubts on animal free innovation becoming mainstream in the Netherlands. And then we stopped. We entered full-heartedly ‘the Helpathon Hotel’. We looked around and experienced it. And it felt good, very good. The Helpathon state of mind and energy was totally there: open minds, open hearts and a great diversity of views. And this is exactly what the research field needs to accelerate animal free innovation… leading to better science. In our Helpathon Hotel we are embodying this change.

Innovative animal free biomedical research methods are developing rapidly. Existing research mindsets and practices (facilities, grants, regulation and publications) are slowly moving along to include these innovations. Helpathon Hotels can help accelerate this in the most pleasant way. We did our six clinical trials (Helpathon # 1-6). The ambition of the Helpathon Hotel is to hold a space where Helpathons can be held continuously with Helpathon plugins for conferences, databases, experts, trainers, funders, merchandising, committee, calamity team, and many more ideas…

To make it work we have to start small and scale up wisely. Our first step is to get a good sense of what is happening in the field of TPI now. How can we collaborate with TPI? Can we become partners? Can we join and complement existing research program proposals? What conferences would be interested in a plug in Helpathon? What research organization can we partner up with? What funds can we have access to? Our second step is to create a business case and set up the Helpathon organization. Then we are in business!

So if you have any leads that can help us understand the current field let us know. If you want to partner up, let us know. If you want to be part of the organization let us know.

HELPATHON #5: Looking to research in a completely different way

At the AMC, Diederik Kuster is researching a disease in which the heart muscle thickens abnormally and at the Radboud UMC, Rick Meijer is investigating whether a certain essential amino acid has a negative effect on blood circulation in muscles and on the development of diabetes. During the Helpathon #5, on October 13th & 14th, we looked for new answers and perspectives to the questions posed by the two researchers

"Can you help me develop a non-animal model for metabolic stress in which we can study cardiomyocyte function?” Diederik Kuster

“Can you help me in finding the best suitable human models for my research on the effect of isovaleric acid on the micro vascular insulin sensitivity.” Rick Meijer

To help Rick and Diederik find alternatives to animal testing for their research questions, the various participants combined new ideas with expertise on organoids, organs on chip and computer models in the interactive 24-hour brainstorming session.

Both researchers were pleasantly surprised by the cooperative atmosphere in the session.

“There is a lot of competition in scientific research. I have not seen it here at all.” Diederik Kuster

“It's interesting how these people see my research questions from different perspectives.” Rick Meijer

TPI program officers took part as laymen: “It is precisely the gaze of an outsider that can lead to questions that may not have been thought of before.”

Helpathon team wins international Lush prize!

On November 11th, 2020, the TPI-Helpathon team was selected because it inspires and helps many researchers to rethink their research.

Read more ...

HELPATHON #4: Exploring promising new organoid models to fight alzheimer, malaria and tuberculosis

Again we went hybrid in HELPATHON #4, November 2nd-3rd. 60 researchers, policy makers, regulators and general members of the public volunteer to help researchers Raissa, Anne-Marie and Frank of the Biomedical Primate Research Center to explore promising new organoid models to fight Alzheimer, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who has donated their time and ideas …
‘Back to the future’ seems to cover well for a retrospective view on Helpathon#4 and a personal word of “thank you” to all who engaged in this event of late November 2 and 3.’ ‘I would like to thank all the helpers for their contribution, energy and open mindedness.’ Frank, Raissa, Anne-Marie and Jeffrey, all researchers from the Biomedical Primate Research Center in Rijswijk, clearly appreciated the help offered by the 60 participants of TPI HELPATHON #4.

Looking for complex in vitro models
Frank, Raissa, Anne-Marie and Jeffrey asked us to help them find in vitro models with high levels of complexity to help fight: tuberculosis, malaria and Alzheimer. They were looking for human organoid models that could mimic and thereby replace using primates as a model. During the 24 hour long Helpathon they shared practices and points of view with other participants and explored upcoming possibilities for in vitro modelling of the lungs, the liver and the brain. Fifteen of the participants were present in Mister Lion’ Helpathon studio and forty five joined in the specially conceived Online Helpathon House.

It might be important to break down complex questions
After a good night's sleep, using our famous collaborative post-it session, it became clear that the level of complexity required in an in-vitro model was directly related to the complexity of the research question. Building the right level of complexity into an in vitro model was compared by Jeffrey to solving a really tough rubik's cube: each face contains characteristics that are linked in a particular way. As soon as you change something in one face it messes up what you put in the other faces. As the helpers revisited the researchers questions they also came up with other research strategies to fight the respective diseases. Both integrating these research efforts and building the invitro models require strong multidisciplinary collaborations between different specialistic organisations… and of course the funding that comes with it.

Raissa and Jeffrey are committed to continue their exploratory conversation on models related to aging:
‘During the Helpathon we have learnt -to our relief- that many researchers struggle with the exact same problems as we do. The Helpathon helped in making contacts with researchers with a lot of expertise in studying aging, hands-on experience in brain organoids and in manufacturing 3D cellular microenvironments.’

Frank has obtained a more clear view on what is and what is not becoming possible and what is still ‘lala land’:
'While reinforcing existing and establishing new contacts with people who are pioneering animal-free pulmonary platforms, it became clear that the complexity of physiology and immunology is too extensive to tackle at this moment the complete applied research objective (...) But, on a positive note, we reconfirmed the relevance of our continuing efforts in trying to define an in vitro biomarker assay to measure correlates of in vivo protection. By using cells from a vaccinated host for such in vitro assays, we could eventually - if successful - make infectious challenges of animals redundant in the future.’

Anne-Marie is looking forward to starting new collaborations:
‘During the Helpathon, my research question remained unchanged, but I now know a lot more about which 3D liver models are available and who has the expertise.(...) Beginning next year we will start to exploit the putative collaborations and hopefully do some pilot experiments. If we get this model in place this will surely help us in unraveling the mysterious dormant parasite biology.‘

The Helpathon team is pleased with the results:
‘I lived in a tunnel’ a participant declared during the check out. The team points out that, as scientific researchers, we create our own world: our field of research, the people in our team, other colleagues in the same research field etc. We some times forget that there are other worlds out there as well. Worlds related to our research field or project. But these other worlds exist, and they can provide new insights from a different reality. The cross-border principle, looking beyond the boundaries of your own world, can make a special and surprising contribution to the research. During this Helpathon many participants travelled over the bridge instead of driving through their tunnel…’

Please watch this movie to get an impression of the event:

HELPATHON #3: Identifying low hanging fruit for animal free liver research and designing animal free innovation course

We went hybrid in HELPATHON #3, June 19-20th. Due to all active and inspiring participants and to Daniela and Saskia - who were brave enough to ask for help. Watch the video to get a glimpse of what happened in the ONLINE HELPATHON HOUSE:

'The TPI HELPATHON was a great inspiration for me. As a scientist that actively makes use of animal experimentation to answer research questions in liver physiology, it is usually difficult to engage with people that seem to be opposed to using animals in research at all.' Saskia van Mil

If you want to know more please read Saskia's letter. And we will keep you posted on how Daniela’s course on animal free innovation materialises.

'At this point I felt that we were the group of teachers giving the course. We all had taken on board the responsibility to make it happen.' Daniela Salvatori

HELPATHON #2: Challanged to jump to research on human tissue

"We have learned that perhaps less pre-clinical research is needed to complete our test of potential medicines in humans / patients. It is now clearer for us which steps need to be taken and that the use of animals is not always necessary. Thanks to this TPI Helpathon we have gained new insights about existing in vitro / cell culture systems that we can use to test our therapies. These models can give results that may be more relevant to humans than results obtained from laboratory animals."

Helpathon #2 was initiated by Karin Eizema from the Dutch Heart Foundation. She challenged three researchers with a animal testing practice to participate in a Helpathon.

Developing and validating a vaccine against atherosclerosis in humans takes a long time; can Bram and Ilze accelerate this by using animal-free alternatives? — Bram Slütter en Ilze Bot are both university teachers and researchers at the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research, in the division of Biotherapeutics.

Based on insights gained during the Helpathon, Bram and Ilze felt encouraged to pursue their pioneering work on human tissues. After the Helpathon Karin, Bram and Ilze created a research plan to further develop this animal free research practice with other Helpathon participants. Together, they successfully applied for a grant to develop a new, animal-free model to test medicines and vaccines against atherosclerosis, using human tissues recovered from surgery. The new research model is now being optimized. They expect to be able to test active substances in the near future.

When mice drink extracellular vesicles of cow milk this has benign effect on joint infections, can Fons capitalize on his finding for human health without further testing on animals? - Fons van de Loo is program leader at the Advanced biological therapy and biomarker research Department of Experimental Rheumatology, Radboud Academic Medical Center.

During HELPATHON #2 we also tackled this second question. The best way to capitalize seemed to start a business around his finding. The big question remained the health claim for humans. The latest update is that Fons can carry out more research to show these extracellular vesicles positively influence the human intestine. With the help of Karin and other people involved in the Helpathon Fons successfully applied for a grant to further progress his work in an animal free way. His project is called: Restore with extracelullar vesicles the function of the intestinal tract. due to the corona break out, his research is on hold now. Meanwhile Fons has become an active animal free innovation ambassador and is challenging his peers to look again at their research practice involving animals.

HELPATHON #1: Repurposing as an opportunity to develop and validate a new animal free model

Can we study the mechanisms of and develop a treatment for dynamic burn wound deepening and treatment without animal testing?

The concept of Helpathon was first tried out at the Dutch Burns Foundation who strongly promotes animal free innovation in the winter of 2018. The Helpathon was organized around the following question: 'can we study the mechanisms of and develop a treatment for dynamic burn wound deepening and treatment without animal testing?'

Researcher Paul Krijnen and funder Carine van Schie were all set to use mice to investigate the efficacy of a particular substance in inhibiting burn wound deepening and thereby positively affecting burn wound healing. During the Helpathon Paul was challenged to develop an organ on chip model to mimic human burn wounds and to use results from this model instead of animals to test the drug and to correlate these results to a clinical study in humans. Once validated, the organ on chip model can be used for the future testing of new substances. The latest update is that Paul has started the project of the development and validation of his burn wound organ on chip model in Amsterdam UMC.

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