Issues Magazine

Alternatives to Animal Experimentation: An Australian Approach

By Sharyn Watson

Developing medical research methodologies that don’t involve experiments on animals reduces suffering for all species – human and non-human.

Graduates are increasingly concerned with the ethical dilemmas they face when using animals in their research projects. They are among an increasing number of medical scientists attempting to replace animals wherever possible, in line with the National Health and Medical Research Council Code of Practice.

The Medical Advances Without Animals Trust (MAWA) is taking a leading role in animal replacement in medical research in Australia. Its aim is to advance medical science and improve human health and therapeutic interventions without using animals or animal products for medical research, and is working with the scientific research community to achieve this goal.

MAWA’s approach is positive. Rather than focusing on and opposing practices, which the Trust does not support, MAWA concentrates on finding and implementing solutions, thus avoiding non-productive conflict with the research community. MAWA believes that to achieve real progress the Trust must engage with scientists and academics and together work for change. By maintaining this focus and building relationships with researchers, MAWA has been very successful in promoting its ideals, developing collaborations and partnerships, and identifying funding opportunities.

MAWA’s board includes senior scientists in medicine and other members with valuable expertise in a broad range of areas crucial to MAWA’s operations. The Trust’s scientific advisory panel includes researchers, academics and medical consultants with expertise across a range of disciplines, many of whom are considered to be world leaders.

MAWA operates as an independent medical research and educational trust fund, facilitating the development and use of alternative experimental methodologies. MAWA also encourages, through promotion and training, the wider adoption of such techniques.

Research

MAWA’s research focus is on fundamental medical research to improve understanding of human illnesses – their causes, progression, and the underlying features – to facilitate prevention, early diagnosis and effective treatment. It supports a broad range of disciplines within, for example, biological sciences, medical sciences, computer sciences and bioengineering.

MAWA has supported research into illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, chronic pain, depression, infectious diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, musculoskeletal diseases, HIV, hepatitis, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. Other research includes treatment of premature babies, cataract treatment, molecular drug design and computational methods of designing and screening therapeutic agents.

MAWA has also supported the development of a non-animal drug screening methodology, a human model of nerve compression, an animal blood-free medium for culture-based diagnosis of human diseases, and a non-animal method of studying the function of specific genes.

Scholarship and Sponsorship

MAWA funding is provided through the award of research, development and equipment grants, doctoral, Masters, Honours, bridging and supplementary scholarships, travel bursaries and distinguished scholar tours. The Trust also provides sponsorship assistance for significant symposiums, seminars and conferences, financial assistance for open access of pertinent scientific journal articles, and funding for individuals to attend domestic and international conferences and training courses.

MAWA has supported a number of young science research scholars in universities throughout Australia with its scholarships program. It also funds a range of replacement research projects utilising alternatives in universities and research institutions throughout Australia. The MAWA Trust relies on private donations to fund its initiatives.

Scholars and researchers funded by MAWA have utilised a number of alternative methodologies to replace animal experiments including human cell and tissue cultures, human gene studies, analytical technology, microorganisms, computer modelling, population studies and ethical clinical research with volunteer patients and healthy subjects.

By funding replacement research and by supporting the training of scientists in alternative techniques, MAWA expects to reduce the entrenched reliance on the use of animals.