The 17th Animal Science Meeting, co-organised by the Royal Society of Biology and the Animals in Science Regulation Unit, took place on Friday 6th December

 

The conference brought together representatives from the animal research sector with expertise ranging from laboratory research to policy making, research funding, management and administration, industry, and animal welfare.

The head of ASRU opened the day and introduced the Unit’s senior leadership team.

Home Office Update

The ASRU leadership team presented updates about the Unit’s governance, the development of a new e-licensing system (ASPeL), themed inspections and policy activities.

The talk on governance included a presentation of ASRU’s 2019-2020 finances and the projected increase of licensing fees for the following three years.

The development of the new ASPeL had reached the public beta phase at the time of the meeting and the system, which meets Government Digital Standards, will undergo continual development and improvement in the coming years.

The Chief Inspector thanked all the stakeholders who contributed to the development of new ASPeL by taking part in the agile design framework. She also presented recent performance metrics of ASPeL and a set of features to be released in the future.

The themed inspections carried out during the year focused on three major areas: reuse of needles, mouse handling, food and water. Failure to provide food and water was a common cause of non-compliance but successful animal care strategies have been identified and disseminated to stakeholders through presentation and publication.

Finally, the policy update included a summary of ASRU correspondence, consisting of parliamentary questions, freedom of information requests, official letters and ministerial letters. ASRU Head of Policy also mentioned the ASRU-NC3Rs memorandum of understanding and the publication of the ASRU annual report and release of statistics report.

Keynote scientific lecture

The lecture was given by Dr Olivia Casanueva from the Babraham Institute in Cambridge. Her talk was titled ‘a neuronal thermostat controls membrane fluidity in C. elegans’ and focused on the physiological process of adaptation to heat in animals, which is fundamental to survival and particularly relevant in view of anthropogenic climate change.

Animals can be categorised into ectotherms, if their body temperature is not internally regulated but directly tracks environmental temperature, and into endotherms, if they rely on internal metabolic processes to control their body temperature.

Heat has a direct impact on cellular processes and cells adapt to temperature shifts by adjusting the levels of lipid desaturation and the fluidity of membranes in a process that is thought to be controlled autonomously.

The fluidity of membranes affects the function of protein embedded in them and signalling processes mediated by them. Therefore, animals have evolved ways to control the lipid content and membrane fluidity. Dr Casanueva’s group studies how cells get the fat they need to change the composition and fluidity of their membranes in the soil nematode worm, C. elegans.

Her lab discovered that subtle step increments in ambient temperature can lead to the activation of the conserved heat shock response in head neurons of C. elegans. An increasing number of neurons express heat shock genes (e.g. HSF-1) as a function of increasing temperature. This pattern of gene expression in neurons, which was shown to extend the animals’ lifespan and robustness to stress, is anti-correlated with the expression of the lipid desaturase FAT-7 in the gut, an enzyme involved in the synthesis of mono-unsaturated fatty acids.

The researchers found that the neuronal ectopic expression of the master regulator of this response, Hsf-1, causes profound fat remodelling events across tissues.

These include a decrease in FAT-7 expression, an increase in expression of enzymes that mobilize lipids called lipases and a shift in the levels of unsaturated fatty acids in the plasma membrane, in line with membrane fluidity requirements to survive in warmer temperatures.

The scientists also identified the cGMP receptor TAX-2/TAX-4 and TGF-β/BMP signalling to be required for the transmission of neuronal stress into peripheral tissues (such as the gut). The neuronal stress response causes a reduction in BMP signalling in the gut, which results in suppression of genes important for the synthesis of unsaturated fatty acids (such as FAT-7).

The results from this study suggest for the first time that a thermostat-based mechanism is in place to centrally coordinate membrane fluidity across tissues.

Headlines from the work of the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs)

Dr Vicky Robinson gave a presentation on key NC3Rs activities including the 3Rs self-assessment tool for academic establishments and research groups that will be launched in 2020. The NC3RS has multiple roles: it awards grants for developing new 3Rs tools and approaches; it gives guidance via publications, its webpages and newsletters; it provides training resources; it hosts symposia and workshops; and it showcases the best new technologies with 3Rs implications.

Research funding is organised in multiple streams and awarded via project grants, PhD studentships, training fellowships, and skills and knowledge transfer grants. The latter were implemented to overcome the 3Rs ‘valley of death’, which refers to the gap between development of 3Rs solutions and their adoption into routine use (akin to what is observed in the translation and commercialisation of basic science), via training and disseminations of techniques and ideas.

In 2019, the NC3Rs has undergone a full review of its funded research and the CRACK IT open innovation partnership scheme between big business, academia and the SME sector.

To promote the impact of 3Rs publications, the NC3Rs gateway was launched on F1000 and follows an open peer-review model. Publications do not have an impact factor but are indexed on PubMed.

Dr Vicky Robinson then described the resources to promote and disseminate the 3Rs to establishments and the associated challenges. She presented two case studies on the reuse of needles and mouse handling. She also introduced two new e-learning modules for laboratory animal anaesthesia.

The NC3Rs also runs scientist-led research programmes, such as a multicentre data crowdsourcing study on male mouse aggression; the revision of the ARRIVE guidelines carried out by an international working group; and the experimental design assistant online tool, which is being used widely across the globe, and recommended by funding bodies as part of grant proposals - both in the UK and abroad. Recently, a citizen science project in collaboration with the MRC Mary Lyon Centre and Zooniverse was launched, with purpose to annotate mouse behaviours recorded by the Home Cage Analyser system, which was presented last year at the Animal Science Meeting 2018.

Finally, Dr Vicky Robinson presented the aims and workflow of the 3Rs self-assessment tools, which will assist research organizations and their staff to benchmark their 3Rs activities and progress.

The UK Animals in Science Committee Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body Initiative

 

Dr Sally Robinson (Animals in Science Committee AWERB Subgroup)

Article 49 of EU Directive 2010/63 requires each member state to establish a National Committee. In the UK this is the Animals in Science Committee (ASC) which is an advisory non-departmental public body. One of the functions of the ASC is to advise Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies (AWERB) on sharing good practice within the UK.

AWERBs can learn from one another to improve processes for addressing all AWERB functions, ultimately improving the implementation of the 3Rs and Culture of Care more widely than at the individual establishment level. The development of a national AWERB network, based around regional ‘Hub’ AWERBs, was undertaken to help fulfil that mandate. Initially, 14 regional hubs were established and now 10 of them have been consolidated.

The roles of the hubs are:

  • holding meetings for the member AWERBs to share practice, information, resources;
  • encouraging AWERBs in their region to hold joint meetings and exchange members;
  • identifying training needs for AWERB members, sharing induction and training materials, and identifying opportunities for joint training and support networks;
  • passing on information on good practice from the ASC.

The AWERB Hubs initiative provides a mechanism to identify examples of good practice. Such examples might be disseminated to stimulate further development or new approaches to deal with issues or challenges. Dissemination of good practice has the potential to improve efficiency and effectiveness for AWERBs more broadly.

The ASC has developed and provided several resources to promote and support this initiative. Resources include the AWERB Knowledge Hub Group, the ‘Hub’ newsletter and the AWERB Network Leaflet. AWERB members can request to subscribe to the newsletter by emailing the ASC Secretariat. The ASC has also supported events such as the annual ASC and AWERB Hub Chair workshops and two ASC AWERB road shows.

Experience to date has been generally positive and the initiative provides means for the ASC and AWERB Hub chairs to interact and to facilitate a two-way communication. A virtual platform called the AWERB Knowledge Hub Group was established to improve communication flow to individual local AWERBs. All AWERB members can in fact join this knowledge exchange platform, by writing to the ASC secretariat.

Moving forward the Hubs offer an opportunity to develop and support AWERBs in activities such as promoting the widest uptake of 3Rs within Establishments.


The afternoon session started with a talk by Professor Marcus Munafò from the University of Bristol on ‘Scientific Ecosystems and Research Reproducibility’.

There have been a number of high profile cases of academic fraud, but a more insidious threat to the integrity of science is the extent to which distortions of scientific best practice increases the likelihood that published research findings are in fact false.

In his talk, Professor Munafò illustrated the growing evidence for a range of systemic problems within science, such as flexibility in the analysis of data, selective reporting of study results, publication bias against null results, influence of vested (e.g. financial) interests, and distorted incentive structures.

He presented a number of strategies for improving the situation, such as the creation of the UK Reproducibility Network, the adoption of open science principles, the importance of pre-registration for human studies and a set of quality-control procedures that could advance the practice of scientific research.

The talk was followed by four parallel roundtable workshops, facilitated by sector leaders on the themes of:

The day was closed by Professor Dominic Wells, Chair of the RSB Animal Science Group.

Read reports from previous Animal Science Meetings.

Presentations

If the event presentations are publicly available, they will be available to download after the meeting:

Headlines from the work of the 3Rs - Vicky Robinson, NC3Rs

Scientific Ecosystems and Research Reproducibility - Marcus Munafò, University of Bristol

A neuronal thermostat controls membrane fluidity in C. elegans - Olivia Casanueva, Babraham Institute

 

Contact

For more information about the Animal Science Meetings, please contact asg@rsb.org.uk