8th World Congress

AV magazine issue 1, 2012 2012 Issue #1 World Congress Coming Together for Progress
Nina Mak

Communities with diverse interests must work together to advance alternatives to animal use in science. The World Congress is instrumental in this process.

It's no small thing to develop alternatives that change the way research has been done for centuries. It takes constant questioning, open minds, a flow of creative solutions, and often ethical or economic motivation to create change. Above all else, it takes a village.

Certainly, it begins with a hope from society, championed by animal protectionists, that we can cure diseases without forcing animals to suffer in painful experiments. But also from a pharmaceutical company that is tired of spending billions of dollars on animal research and human trials only to have less than 10 percent of its products prove successful enough to bring to market.1

It takes an academic researcher to see how the technologies she is working on can be applied to help produce more relevant information than animal models. Or animal advocates to point out where there could be immediate reductions in animal testing and greater reliance on non-animal methods.

It also takes a school administrator to see that students can learn as well or better without using animals. Or government agencies, who are responsible for evaluating a product's safety, to agree that they have confidence using results from alternative methods.

The World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences brings these diverse players together and creates that village, if only for a few days, with the belief that the information shared, the partnerships formed, and the understanding cultivated will help the village endure well beyond the meeting.

The 8th World Congress
The World Congress convenes every two to three years, with the most recent 8th meeting (WC8), hosted by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) in Montreal, August 21-25, 2011. The CCAC is the body that oversees the use of animals in science in Canada.

Recognizing the value of collaboration and the unique role that the World Congress plays in bringing together a broad array of people, the organizing theme for WC8 was "Together It's Possible."

The theme for WC8 reflects the thinking of Dr. Gilly Griffin, the Programs Director at CCAC and Chair of the WC8 Scientific Program Committee, who said, "It is only possible to move forward if you have a whole variety of people who are interested…. What's been particularly special about the World Congresses is that they do offer an opportunity for all those communities to get together in one place and to openly discuss what's possible in terms of implementation of 3Rs [Reduction, Refinement, Replacement] alternatives."

Echoing this sentiment, Clément Gauthier, Executive Director of CCAC and Co-Chair of WC8, explained, "When we are face to face, and questions are honestly asked with sincerity, and answers are basically worked on together, it works. [The World Congress] is the only forum with such a wide spectrum."

Nearly 900 people attended WC8, representing the diverse viewpoints of toxicologists, biomedical scientists, educators, veterinarians, government regulators, community representatives, pharmaceutical companies, animal protectionists, and others.

It can be challenging to bring together so many different people. Not every country, every field, nor every person is in the same place in terms of embracing and developing alternatives. The challenges and opportunities in one field may be completely different from those in another. And while some people concern themselves with laying out a vision and plan for moving forward, others are working out highly specific details of a particular test method.

The diversity of the attendees is reflected in the diversity of presentations and posters on display at WC8.

Over the course of 5 days There were nearly 900 people from 52 different countries, 36 scientific meetings, 15 additional sessions, 6 satellite meetings, over 200 oral presentations, and more than 400 posters of varying degrees of breadth and depth, as well as a multimedia room displaying alternatives in education. At previous Congresses, much of the emphasis was on the subject of toxicity testing, which has benefitted from a significant investment by industry, especially in Europe. At WC8, attention was intentionally placed on a broader range of topics including: 1) biomedical research alternatives, since the majority of animal use is for biomedical research; 2) replacement alternatives, since this is the ultimate goal after all; 3) alternatives and animal use policy, since policies at various levels can promote or impede alternatives implementation; and 4) education alternatives, since humane education is a cornerstone of ethical treatment of animals. As a result, the communities working on these issues were more active in the World Congress than in years past.

Within this diversity lie some of the strengths of WC8. When various people can share their points of view and experiences, "you do get a sense of what people are finding as obstacles, but you also get a feeling of where those opportunities are," said Dr. Griffin. Furthermore, participants may have questions that have been answered elsewhere, and can learn from others' successes, as well as their mistakes, to think about what is possible, and to challenge the status quo.

When communities that don't often interact come together, Dr. Griffin added, the opportunities for networking and cross-fertilization of ideas are considerable. "I think in science that's always valuable to see what's happening in other disciplines because you can then oftentimes see what's parallel in your own discipline."

The energizing effect of the World Congress is especially noticeable to people new to alternatives. Dr. Gauthier reported that, as attendees, they learn about what alternatives are out there, bring it back to their organization or company, and spread a sense of what is possible because they have come in contact with a wide range of people at the World Congress that they otherwise would not have. At least one pharmaceutical company, for example, used WC8 as a training opportunity for some of its scientists. And, fulfilling a goal of CCAC, more than 170 Canadians attended WC8, compared to just 10 or 11 in years past.

Mapping out the future
The World Congress presents the state of the art in particular scientific areas, but it goes further than this. Because it can bring so many people together to hash out different ideas, it helps build consensus, promotes international harmonization, and sets a vision for the future.

In one session, for example, participants explored the question of whether animal experiments causing severe pain and distress could be eliminated by 2020. In another session, key players from around the world came together to discuss how animal users should be trained, given the increasing globalization of science.

According to Dr. Griffin, though, "a cornerstone to the way that things will move forward is the Montreal Declaration." Proposed at WC8 and endorsed by the meeting participants, the Montreal Declaration is "A call for a change in the culture of planning, executing, reporting, reviewing, and translating animal research."

The Declaration builds on recent studies that found poor correlation between animal and human results in certain fields, and other studies that pointed to persistent problems in experimental design. It states that all available evidence relevant to a specific research question should be synthesized before an experiment using animals is begun, preventing waste of time, money, and animals' lives.

To promote the goals of the Declaration, an international working group has already been established and a symposium and workshop on systematic reviews scheduled. If done properly, the synthesis of information called for by the Declaration is expected to help provide the academic foundation for replacing animal models in various fields of biomedical research.

Getting it done
Perhaps the best thing about the World Congress is that the people who attend are no longer debating whether or not alternatives are possible or are a good idea. We are getting together to figure out how to get it done. What are the needs? What are the challenges?

Through discussion and debate, networking, and cross-fertilization of ideas, we can investigate and pursue opportunities, and speed up the process of change. The World Congress is energizing and stimulating, providing the most significant opportunity for animal protectionists, toxicologists, pharmaceutical companies, biomedical researchers, and government agencies to engage in respectful dialogue and challenge each other.

No conference is perfect, and as animal advocates we naturally push for greater and faster progress towards completely replacing the use of animals in science. But as the World Congress on Alternatives demonstrates, the more we get together, the better off the animals will be.

[1] Food and Drug Administration (2006, Jan. 12). FDA Issues Advice to Make Earliest Stages of Clinical Dug Development More Efficient. Press Release. Retrieved March 2012, from http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/2006/ucm108576.htm.

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