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Strengthening Preclinical Research

Three-pronged approach to strengthening AO's Preclinical Research.

Getting funding to explore breakthrough surgical procedures, devices and substances that improve patient care can be difficult enough, and the challenge becomes even more daunting when the subject is improving research methodology. But thanks to a grant from the AO Strategy Fund, a project to do just that is up and running at the AO Research Institute (ARI) Davos.

“Strengthening AO’s Preclinical Research” is the title, and the goal, of the two-year, cross-divisional project led by Stephan Zeiter, DVM, Focus Area Leader Preclinical Services at ARI. The project aims to strengthen the AO’s preclinical research through three approaches: generation of a more uniform, globally available AO sheep; education and training, and Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) accreditation.

“Preclinical research has made important contributions throughout AO history and it is important to continue to raise standards for how preclinical research is done,” he said. “At the same time, it is difficult to find funding to improve research methodology. I do not think this project would have gotten off the ground if not for the AO Strategy Fund grant.”

The AO sheep
Preclinical research using animals can be a controversial topic, and Zeiter believes his project has the potential to decrease the burden on animals while maximizing research output.

“We want to replace, reduce and refine animal experiments and at the same time improve our research methodology,” he explained. “Sheep, unlike other animals used in research, are not well standardized or characterized and they differ from one research institute to the other. We want to learn whether there would be benefits to using a more homogenous, purpose bred sheep.”

If such benefits do exist, a next step would be breeding sheep tailored to researchers' needs and making a more uniform sheep available for research groups worldwide.

Education and training
As education is a key factor for successful planning and execution of preclinical research, this part of the project is about developing a residency in laboratory animal medicine, exchange programs for veterinary anesthesiology residents and animal care apprentices, and courses on how to conduct preclinical research.

“The idea is to work on developing a common research methodology so that we can compare the results obtained at ARI with the results obtained by other researchers around the world,” Zeiter said. “This includes training and educating anyone we partner with in research, getting rid of as many differences in research methodologies as possible, and really optimizing preclinical training and education to position the AO in a leading role.”

GLP accreditation
The ARI today is accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), and is seeking GLP accreditation to ensure consistency and minimize experimental variables.

“There are not many research institutes that can do research under GLP,” said Zeiter, adding that the main focus of GLP is quality and traceability of all data produced. “This accreditation is often expected by industrial partners for preclinical research and it fits with the other goals of our project because it is about standards and quality.”

To be GLP accredited, ARI must conduct a few studies to GLP standards and pass an inspection. Accreditation is expected in 2016.  

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