A new approach to computer modelling has won the 2014 3Rs Prize awarded by The National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). The work has been recognised for its potential to reduce the number of animals used in research, particularly in the safety assessment of new drugs.
It is the first time that the 3Rs prize has been awarded to a computer science paper since its launch in 2005, and the first time that the highest accolade has gone to a PhD student: Oliver Britton from the University of Oxford.
Mr Britton’s winning paper describes using existing data to build a computer model of cardiac electrophysiology that incorporates variations in ‘normal’ heart properties that occur between individuals of the same species. Traditional modelling tends to ignore this, using averaged data instead. This new approach has the potential to make computer models that can more accurately identify drug compounds that could be toxic to the heart. Early identification would allow these compounds to be removed from the drug development pipeline before they reach the stage where regulatory animal studies are required. As confidence in the model grows, there could be potential for it to replace some in vivo studies altogether. This is the first time that natural variability has successfully been considered in such a model, and the methodology could be applied to other diseases. The authors are already planning to use the same methodology to build computer models for understanding pain and diabetes.
Professor Ian Kimber OBE, 3Rs Prize panel chair, said: ‘Mr Britton’s paper really stood out to the panel because of the model’s potential to be used to replace early-stage animal tests in drug safety studies, across a broad range of disciplines. The model has also been developed into a piece of user-friendly software, encouraging uptake and use by industry, which could have large scale impacts on the reduction of animals in research.’
The computer model has been developed into a user-friendly software package called Virtual Assay, which should increase industry uptake for use in drug safety testing, as it can be used without the need for specialist programming and modelling experience. It is possible to use the modelling method to study variability in any biological system, increasing the potential of the model to reduce animal use.
The following is a link to a very useful video of the prize-winner, Oliver Britton, explaining his work: http://media.podcasts.ox.ac.uk/oucs/temp/oliver_britton_computer_science.mp4
Further information about the research can be found here: http://www.cs.ox.ac.uk/ccs/tools