Ever dissected a lab rat? Removed the beating heart of a frog in class? For most scholars, these aren’t very distant memories. But for today’s life sciences students, animal experiments are fast becoming a thing of the past.
Utrecht University students can now virtually explore every layer of a rat’s anatomy using a hologram, practice taking blood samples from the brain of a plastic pig and conduct sophisticated internal examinations on a robot horse. Innovative new ways of learning about both human and animal life; no live creatures required.
About 10 million animals are used for scientific purposes in Europe every year. Some 200,000 of them help educate and train tomorrow’s vets, doctors, researchers, and scientists. And if your dog has ever run out into the road or if you’ve ever needed lifesaving medication, you know how important it is that the professionals you rely on know exactly what they are doing.
But let’s be honest: animal pathology differs to human pathology and a frog’s leg is not a human leg. In fact, nine out of ten drugs tested on animals fail in human clinical trials. So, what if things can be done differently and better? What if we can avoid unnecessary suffering? What if we create a world in which laboratory animals are no longer the standard?
From Virtual to Reality
Utrecht University has made it their mission to work on animal-free innovations that not only help improve animal wellbeing, but also lead to better education and more effective scientific discoveries. Rose petals and noodles are great for practicing the delicate stitching techniques needed for, say, open heart surgery, and are a popular teaching tool at Utrecht University.
But innovations like organs-on-a-chip, organoids, and virtual humans are the exciting new technologies that bring scientific education and research to new heights. “We have to constantly ask ourselves: how can we educate our students in the best possible way? It’s not by default with laboratory animals,” says Utrecht University Professor of Comparative Anatomy and Physiology Daniela Salvatori.
“We’ve developed three-dimensional and holographic models together with UMC Utrecht and Utrecht University computer scientists, as it can be difficult to learn 3D structures from 2D pictures in textbooks. Virtual reality improves spatial skills and means students can practice as often as needed.”
Creative Research Community
And it’s not just students who get to enjoy the benefits of these new technologies, says Daniela. “Vets and surgeons can practice on the trickiest structures once more virtually just before an operation. [These technologies present opportunities for] life-long learning.”
As well as being a Professor at Utrecht University, Daniela heads TPI Utrecht – an interdisciplinary group working on the transition towards animal-free innovations – where she strives for top quality innovations that guarantee and improve the quality of scientific research and education. Moving to the Utrecht, Heart of Health – whether for studies or work – means joining a community of creative minds at the forefront of innovation. A strong focus on knowledge sharing means students, surgeons, researchers, PhDs, and investors alike can cement their position as global innovators in Utrecht.
From TPI Utrecht’s in-house helpdesk which will connect you to experts who can answer your questions to organising helpathons – interdisciplinary creative workshops to find or develop animal-free methods to answer specific research questions – there are infinite opportunities to help create a healthier, more sustainable world at Utrecht University and beyond. Also the 3Rs Centre Utrecht, which works closely together with TPI Utrecht, can facilitate you to implement animal-free methods in your research.
So, tell us, when will you be joining us in the Heart of Health?