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11 November, 2020 - 09:37 By Tony Quested

Cambridge team scoops £50k prize for fighting animal testing

Cambridge University has been recognised as being in the vanguard of a global fight against animal testing for scientific research. Its MIE Atlas team, working with Unilever, has won the 2020 Lush Prize of £50,000 in the science category.

For the first time this year three of the nine winners sharing the £250,000 Lush Prize were working on big data projects designed to replace animal tests.

Winners from Cambridge University, Utrecht University and a Milan Research Institute were all using computer databases to successfully predict the toxicity of chemicals for humans.

The MIE Atlas Team, headed by Dr Timothy Allen, is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge and Unilever’s Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre.

Dr Allen said: “Scientific excellence is key in everything we do. Animal experiments are no way to learn about the impacts of chemicals on human biology, as they differ biologically. 

“Non-animal methods with a mechanistic toxicology focus can answer these questions in a scientifically superior way.”

The team has been building computational models based on chemistry to predict human Molecular Initiating Events – MIEs – since 2013. These models predict in-silico how chemicals can have effects that may lead to Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs).

MIEs are the initial interaction between a molecule and a biomolecule or biosystem that can be causally linked to an outcome via a pathway.

Dr Allen joined the project as the first MIE Atlas project PhD student in January 2013 as a fresh-faced research student just out of undergraduate. He wanted to work in research to learn new skills and develop his abilities, and to help answer big and challenging questions in chemistry. 

The project delivered new and exciting opportunities in toxicology, biology, statistics, informatics and computer science and the ability to work with and learn from incredibly talented researchers from around the world.

Dr Allen said: “While scientific excellence drives alternatives to animal testing, the moral argument that animal experimentation is wrong helps turn this drive into a passion. 

“New methodologies are needed to allow for this transition and it’s great to think that the scientific work you are doing is not only applicable in real-world scenarios but is also helping to drive that science in the correct moral direction.”

The Lush Prize was founded in 2012 in the UK with a goal of helping to bring forward the date when no further product safety testing on animals was required. 

It is a collaboration between the campaigning cosmetics company Lush and the campaigning research group Ethical Consumer.

The £250,000 prize fund is the biggest prize in the non-animal testing sector and is the only award to focus solely on the complete replacement of animal tests. It is now in its eighth prize cycle.

Every year it is estimated that more than 115 million animals are used in testing laboratories around the world.

• PHOTOGRAPH: Dr Timothy Allen (University of Cambridge).

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