By Dr. John W. Harbell
The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) and the International Foundation for Ethical Research (IFER) have championed the move from whole animal-based research in physiology, drug development, and toxicology to the use of in vitro methods (often called alternative methods). They have worked to accomplish this goal through credible educational and public awareness programs, the IFER Graduate Student Fellowship Grants and their support of the Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB) annual scientific meeting.
The SIVB was founded in 1946 (as the Tissue Culture Association) specifically to promote the use of cells and tissues in culture for research and testing. For SIVB members, in vitro methods are not called “alternatives.” Rather, these methods are our primary approach for research. There are many questions that one simply cannot address in the whole animal and others that one should not address when in vitro methods are available.
NAVS and IFER have had a long association with the SIVB. For some time, SIVB members have participated in and chaired the Scientific Advisory Board that performs the IFER grant application reviews. More recently, NAVS and IFER have provided support for the SIVB’s annual scientific meeting. This support has been instrumental in helping to underwrite the free registration for graduate students attending the meeting and helping to support specific parts of the scientific program.
High quality in vitro science is the future. The SIVB program committee works to identify topics and associated experts to present successful applications of in vitro biology. From the 2017 meeting program, several symposia stand out as being directly applicable to the missions of NAVS and IFER.
One example was the Keynote symposium for the meeting, “Regenerative Medicine: Current Concepts and Changing Trends,” delivered by Dr. Anthony Atala, MD, of the Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine. Dr. Atala heads a team of over 400 researchers. Dr. Atla notes that “[r]egenerative medicine and tissue engineering apply the principles of cell transplantation, material sciences and bioengineering to construct biological substitutes that may restore and maintain normal function in diseased and injured tissues.”
This work is performed with human cells—often stem cells—which can be induced to form the functioning cells and structures of the desired organ. Dr. Atla has also applied this work to the development of human cell-based organ-on-a-chip models for research.
Some may ask why, in this day of the internet, are scientific meetings so important? The short answer is that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction in teaching, mentoring and collaboration. In my 40+ years with the SIVB, I can attest to its strong focus on teaching/mentoring which provides an opportunity for students and new researchers to the field to present their work and interact with the more senior members of the society.
This is why the program for free registration for students, with support from NAVS and IFER,, is so important. It allows students from many diverse programs to participate and benefit from the strong scientific program and mentoring opportunities. NAVS and IFER, along with their supporters, should be justifiably proud of the opportunity their contributions have provided.
Dr. John W. Harbell is Chair of the Scientific Advisory Board for the International Foundation for Ethical Research and a Science Advisor for the National Anti-Vivisection Society.