This is a hopeful sign that the protection of animals is starting to be taken seriously by the powers-that-be in both Government and scientific circles
A new fund dedicated to researching alternatives to animal testing has been secured thanks to years of lobbying from the Irish Anti-Vivisection Society (IAVS) and is the final outcome of a meeting last year with between the Society and Science Foundation Ireland's Director General Professor Mark Ferguson. The SFI has agreed that the funding will be spent specifically on researching replacement methods other than testing and painful experimentation on animals.
Up until now there has been no dedicated funding for this kind of research, despite Ireland being one of the heaviest experimenters on animals in Europe. Health Products Regulatory Authority findings showed that nearly quarter of a million animals were tested on in Ireland in 2015 alone.
Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, said: "Science Foundation Ireland supports excellent research with impact and is proud to catalyse best practice across our activities.
"We have consulted with a number of organisations in order to develop this new measure towards more effective, efficient and humane research. This is the first time we have specifically called for research proposals to support the development and validation of new tests, models and approaches not involving the use of live animals and addressing the principles of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement)".
It is not yet clear what the level of funding will be, as amounts depend on how many grant applications for such research are received, (and on their quality), through the SFI's Investigators Programme 2016. The funding request amounts for individual four or five year awards may be from €400K up to €2million. This funding typically supports a Principal Investigator to hire a number of PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.
And although it's impossible to quantify precisely how many animal tests will be prevented, hopes are that the funding will pave the way for alternative testing eliminating the need for animal testing in the longer-term.
All research funded by Science Foundation Ireland that involves the use of animals, requires the investigator and team members to comply with the requirements of the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) and EU legislation. To date, Science Foundation Ireland has stipulated that all necessary ethical and regulatory approvals are in place prior to research commencing.
Yvonne Smalley, the IAVS chairperson, said: "We would like to warmly congratulate Science Foundation Ireland for this historic step forward for both animal protection and human health. We would also like to thank the Health Products Regulatory Authority for their input into this new funding scheme.
"The Irish state's traditional attitude towards animal welfare has been disinterest and complacency. But this is a hopeful sign that the protection of animals is starting to be taken seriously by the powers-that-be in both Government and scientific circles. We hope that progressive and pioneering researchers seize this chance to conduct ground-breaking research that will advance human health and safety, as well as protect animals.
"We call on the Government to build on this positive development by enshrining the protection of animal welfare as a key obligation of the state. In the field of animal experimentation, we would like to see some momentum created, leading to the establishment of a national research centre dedicated to replacing animal experiments and government targets to reduce the number of experiments and their severity."
Replacing animal testing requires international agreement, so there is still a need for the SFI to coordinate with other countries and EU initiatives, but the move is a leap forward for Ireland's contribution to an EU directive (Article 47 of Directive 2010/63/EU) which sets out the international obligation to replace animal testing with alternative methods.
Conservationist, wildlife presenter and animal rights campaigner Anneka Svenska welcomed the move from the SFI, and said: "This is a huge move forward in the world of animal testing, which I feel is currently outdated and primitive. Many animals are often used in useless and extremely painful procedures, causing many to die ‘in vain'. Thousands of animals are tortured and then thrown away in procedures which lead on to no real scientific achievement.
"It is great to see that Ireland is setting a precedent to other countries, considering its track record as being at the top when it comes to being one of the highest countries to experiment in such a large capacity with such painful procedures.
"Many experts feel that results currently obtained from animals are actually mostly useless, as animals are so very different physiologically to human beings, so it's time we moved into the 21st century and used our technologies and scientific ‘brains' to create an ethical and kind way of forwarding testing for the cosmetic and medical industries. It has be de-prioritised I feel in the wake of other developments, so this is excellent news."
European medical research leaders have expressed that funding for the research into non-animal testing methods has the potential to spare thousands of animals from pain and distress, and potential means ‘more effective, faster, cheaper toxicological testing to better predict human risk and meet regulatory needs'.