Launched in 2014, the Provost’s Awards for excellence in animal research acknowledged staff who have made advances in the 3Rs, shown openness or demonstrated a long-term commitment to improving research practice. Winners receive £1,000 to cover costs of presenting their work to a wider audience.

Winners of the previous editions can be found in the yearly Annual Reports.

Award winners for 2019

Application of the 3Rs, researchers - Dr Anna Blakney, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow

Dr Blakney receive the Provost’s Award for her pioneering use of human skin explants for the development of RNA vaccine formulations. In her project, Anna has partially replaced the use of animals to test RNA vaccine formulations with human skin explants. This work reduces the number of animals used for pre-clinical testing of vaccine and biotherapeutic nucleic acid formulations. The use of this model has the potential to reduce the number of animals used globally for vaccine development studies as well as revolutionize the way we translate vaccines from the lab to the clinic. Beyond a substantial 3Rs impact, this approach could potentially enable the more successful clinical translation of any nucleic acid or viral vector currently in the vaccine pipeline.

Application of the 3Rs, CBS staff - Mr Anthony Iglesias, CBS Facility Manager; Mr Philip Rawson, Senior Technician; Mr David MacDonald, Animal Technician

Mr Iglesias, Mr Rawson and Mr MacDonald receive the Provost’s Award for the introduction of a new caging system to avoid single housing of rats. Rats are incredibly social animals. However, if a rat has undergone an experimental procedure, they have to be isolated from his companions so he can be monitored closely and assess food and water consumption. After a period away from each other, it can be challenging to reintroduce them to each other. The CBS team approached the company providing cages for the department and proposed to design a cage divider with separate food dispensers, water bottles and importantly a perforated divider. This is an essential feature as it allows the rats to smell and see each other. The food and water consumption can be monitored individually, and once both rats have recovered, they were able to be reintroduced to one and other by merely removing the divide. This refinement approach has resulted in successfully re-grouping of rats that were isolated for some time for experimental procedures.

Team award - Dr Elina Akalestou, Research Associate; Dr Alasdair Gallie, Named Veterinary Surgeon; Dr Livia Lopez Noriega, Research Associate; Dr Isabelle Leclerc, Reader in Diabetic Medicine

The team receive the Provost’s Award for their work to optimise a newly approved severe protocol focusing on a type of gastrointestinal surgery, known as bariatric surgery, following studies demonstrating its link to Type 2 Diabetes and Non-alcoholic-steatohepatitis (NASH) remission. Under the close guidance of Dr Gallie, the operation was refined, by introducing different suture material, suturing style and extra surgical steps to ensure sterility of the abdomen, as intra-gut bacteria had an effect on mortality. Moreover, Dr Lopez improved the monitoring and recording temperature and anaesthesia levels during surgery, an essential step, especially for obese animals. The main project combines bariatric surgery with transplantation of pancreatic islets in the anterior chamber of the eye, to allow continuous monitoring of the effects of gastric exclusion to the islet physiology, without sacrificing animals to obtain the pancreas for immunohistochemistry. This is the first time these two techniques are combined, and the refined surgery technique has reduced enormously the number of animal needed. Furthermore, four independent projects also benefit from this improved technique using the tissue biopsies obtained, with a new collaboration from a different group established. As a result, this study does not need to be repeated often and is used as a Biobank for various researchers, further reducing the number of animals used among different research groups.

Public Engagment award - Mr Andrew Youngson, News and Digital content editor and Dr Anna Napolitano, CBS Quality Assurance and 3Rs Programme Manager

Mr Youngson and Dr Napolitano receive the Provost’s Award for their idea to use the Reddit-AMA platform for a series of Q and As with Imperial researchers to talk about the use of animals in research and the welfare implications. Reddit is a social media platform that allows people to ask live questions. It regularly hosts interactive interviews where a host sets the agenda for the Q&A and invites members of the public to ‘AMA’ (Ask Me Anything) on that chosen topic. Participation allows scientists to communicate with an international audience of all ages and backgrounds and is a useful tool with limited time investment. So far three Anna and Andrew have had three series of interviews: Professor Richard Reynolds (‘Ask Me Anything’: Researcher talks about MS and animal welfare on Reddit); Dr John Tregoning (Respiratory infection expert opens the floor to questions on Reddit); Dr Jessica Strid (Cancer immunologist hosts live Q&A on Reddit). Thanks to this live interview more than 21,000 people around the world had the chance to know more about different research fields directly from an expert and to understand better why is still important to use animals and how animal research is carried out. In line with Imperial’s involvement in the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research (May 2014), regular AMAs are being planned with researchers who contribute to the dissemination and improvement regarding the principles of the 3Rs (Reduction, Replacement, Refinement) at the College and in the scientific community. These Reddit Q and As have also been highlighted to the League of European Research Universities (LERU) animal research group as an example of best practice which demonstrates Imperial’s commitment to openness on animal research.