The two leading universities in the area of alternative methods in Europe and the US have joined forces to complement the 29-year-old Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) at Johns Hopkins University with a corresponding Center for Europe (CAAT-Europe) at the University of Konstanz.
The "Excellence University" of Konstanz has twenty years of experience in alternatives to animal experiments, employing five professors in pharmacology and toxicology along with numerous coworkers researching human-relevant alternative methods.
Inauguration of CAAT-Europe
The inaugural ceremony took place on March 30th 2010 in the Senate Hall of the University of Konstanz. In addition to the directors of CAAT and CAAT-EU, the list of speakers included University representatives, cooperation partners, supporters from industry and science, and the animal welfare organization Eurogroup for Animals, as well as the three designated “Patrons of alternative methods.”
The Senate Hall was packed with 120 guests. The mild weather and views of snow-capped Alps and sparkling Lake Constance provided a memorable atmosphere.
Ulrich Ruediger, the rector of the University of Konstanz, gave the welcome speech, which described the university’s focus on Life Sciences.
Thomas Hartung, director of CAAT, co-director of CAAT-EU, and professor at both universities, which initiated of the formation of CAAT-EU, offered an introduction to the US concept of a “Toxicology for the 21st century” (Tox-21c), which has stirred tremendous interest and excitement in the field. Hartung introduced the rationale for human-relevant alternative methods and explained the inadequacies of the initial calculations carried out for REACH.
Michael Klag, Dean of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, discussed the significance of public health in the US, emphasizing the role of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School in medical research and also in funding of international research and aid programs.
Alan Goldberg, former director of CAAT and chairman of the CAAT board, used the example of the Draize Test on rabbit eyes to demonstrate the advantages of in vitro methods and the inaccuracy of animal models. As one of the “patrons of alternative methods in the life sciences” appointed by the 2009 World Congress on Alternative Methods in Rome, he gave an insider’s overview of the success story CAAT’s push for alternatives over the last three decades. He stressed the necessity and importance of in vitro toxicology and the role of transatlantic cooperation.
Marcel Leist, director of CAAT-EU and Doerenkamp-Zbinden chair for in vitro toxicology and biomedicine at the University of Konstanz, detailed the scope and functions of CAAT-EU: 1) coordination of research consortia; 2) installation of a dynamic CAAT-EU faculty and advisory board to address topical issues; 3) organization of information days on relevant developments in the US and Europe; 4) strategic project development; and 5) joint education programs. Moreover, he outlined plans for the Transatlantic Think Tank of Toxicology (t4).
Both universities participating in the CAAT-EU venture have a history of collaboration, as Gerd Gantefoer, professor of physics in Konstanz and research professor at Johns Hopkins explained in a lively and informative talk. He described the difficulties but also the value of his experiences collaborating in a joint research project on nanomaterials for energy storage and energy conversion.
Michael Balls, emeritus Professor for Medical Cell Biology at the University of Nottingham, trustee of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME), Editor of ATLA, and a second patron of alternative methods, was one of the highlights of the ceremony with his speech, “Alternative methods, servant to two masters.” Balls advised CAAT-EU to be aware of conflicts of interest, to compete by putting forward new ideas, to collaborate in putting the most innovative concepts into practice, to join in leading the “revolution,” and to contribute to the improvement of hazard prediction and risk assessment by developing, validating, and employing advanced methods and replacing the use of flawed animal tests.
Horst Spielmann, retired head of the National German Centre for the Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Testing (ZEBET) and professor for regulatory risk assessment at the Free University of Berlin, and the third patron of alternative methods, presented his vision of the future of developmental toxicology. Spielmann spoke of the need for harmonization of reproductive toxicity testing across all sectors of regulatory testing, of exposure-driven testing of industrial chemicals, the implementation of a new “extended one-generation reproductive toxicity study” and other in vitro methods for toxicity testing in the 21st century. As examples, he pointed to the ReProTect in vitro battery and the embryonic stem cell technology focusing on molecular endpoints in both the murine and human stem cell test.
Congratulatory greetings from sponsors, supporters, and partners rounded out the inaugural festivities. Adela Lopez De Cerain, president of ECOPA, discussed the structure of the European Consensus Platform. The participating National Consensus Platforms are Austria (ZET), Czech Republic (CZECOPA), The Netherlands (ZonMw), France (within Inserm), Germany (SET), Hungary (HUCOPA), Italy (IPAM), Spain (REMA), Belgium (BPAM), Denmark (DACOPA), Finland (FINCOPA), Norway (NORECOPA), Sweden (SWECOPA), Switzerland (3Rs Research Foundation), and Poland (POLCOPA).
Kirsty Reid, policy officer for research animals of EuroGroup for Animals, gave an overview of the activities of European organizations working in the 3Rs. She stressed that a paradigm shift is needed to accomplish scientific improvements and safety testing without the reliance on animals and with more emphasis on the research, implementation, and enforcement of 3Rs.