London recently provided the venue for the very first animal free innovation Helpathon in the UK.
Helpathons are used in the Netherlands to help researchers who might otherwise undertake animal experiments to make the shift towards animal free methods. The idea is that advances in knowledge often happen through chance encounters. Bringing people together in a Helpathon can tip the odds of those chance encounters in our favour and help to accelerate progress.
TPI Helpathon have organised 6 successful helpathon events so far. We want the UK to join the Netherlands as an international leader in accelerating towards animal free methods. This is why Animal Free Research UK, in collaboration with the Alliance for Human Relevant Science teamed up with the Dutch Helpathon team.
On the first of the two day sprint, the problem to be solved in this Helpathon was introduced by researchers, Professor Jesmond Dalli and Dr Duco Koenis from Barts, the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and Queen Mary University. They wanted help with how to transition their research, which involves using animal models of rheumatoid arthritis, to improved human relevant animal free research methods. Their goal is to test new drug targets for reducing inflammation and bacterial infection in the disease. This will ultimately pave the way for better treatments to resolve inflammation, avoiding irreversible damage and improving patients’ lives.
Ready to capitalise on open minds, open hearts and a great diversity of views thanks to the open invitation, the Helpathon started with Jesmond and Duco presenting an overview of their work with some insightful questioning from the audience, many of whom were non-scientists.
The atmosphere was electric with engaged and inspired participants coming up with questions which were then grouped into themes. Participants then worked together in rooms discussing and interrogating these questions and moving between rooms, encouraging new connections to be made and more ideas to be generated. Day 2 saw these ideas being released from constraints of reality with visionary thinking around an ’ideal future’ where all research is animal free. Participants worked in teams and transformed themselves into movie makers, actors, comic creators and then live-streamed their final presentations during the closing session. These creative presentations ranged from new methods to help identify drug targets through to roadmaps on how to transition to a future world where science is animal free.
This creativity was captured by a professional doodle artist and a musician who provided inspiration by observing the event and composing a unique piece entitled, ‘there’s science behind kindness’. The event concluded with these ideas being shaped into some tangible ‘takeaways’. This was in the form of letters from participants advising on ‘next steps’ for Jesmond and Duco to take back to their labs, digest and then apply new ways of working to their research.
This pioneering UK Helpathon represents the first step towards the goal of a network of international Helpathons under one umbrella. This would connect collaborators and ideas to each other, helping to create a world where human diseases are cured faster without animal suffering
Carla Owen, Chair of the Alliance for Human Relevant Science and CEO of Animal Free Research UK, said “The arrival of the project in Britain will help the country’s scientists transition away from outdated animal-based medical research methods and grasp a human-relevant future.”