Action Medical Research understands that some people are concerned about the use of animals or animal tissue in medical research. However, the use of animals has helped find new antibiotics, treatments and vaccines that have relieved suffering and saved millions of lives. The UK is regarded as having some of the strictest regulations and highest welfare conditions for animal research in the world and this ensures that animals are only used when absolutely essential.
Action Medical Research does not carry out research itself but supports research projects that take place in hospitals and universities in the UK. As a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) we support the principle of using animals in research when it is necessary to advance understanding of health and disease and to develop new treatments. This research only takes place where there is no alternative available. All AMRC member charities support this principle, as outlined on the AMRC website.
The majority of the research projects we support do not involve the use of animals or animal tissue. Many of them involve working directly with patients who have been affected by a disease or disability. As part of our rigorous scientific review process researchers have to justify why alternative methods cannot be used. Researchers who apply to us for funding for projects involving animals must hold the appropriate Home Office licences.
We only fund research which complies with the law and supports the principle of the 3Rs to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research.
Action Medical Research funds work exploring the genetic causes of diseases and disabilities. Such research helps us to understand more about the normal function of genes and the causes of genetic diseases and ultimately it is hoped that genetic research will lead to better treatments or cures for genetic diseases through correcting or replacing the abnormal gene (gene therapy) or through replacing the proteins that these genes would normally produce.
Action Medical Research does not fund any work that involves human reproductive cloning, which is illegal in the UK.
Action Medical Research funding has helped to identify the genes for a number of conditions including Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, a disorder that causes the growth of cysts and tumours on the eyes, spinal cord and kidneys; for an inherited form of cleft lip and palate called Van der Woude syndrome; and for the hereditary skin condition incontinentia pigmenti which causes severe blistering and abnormalities of the eyes, teeth, hair and nails. These breakthroughs can lead to better management and care for children and could ultimately lead to new treatments.
Stem cell research
Some of the charity’s research projects involve the use of stem cells. The aim of stem cell research is to treat a disease by manipulating the patient’s own stem cells (for example, taken from their own bone marrow) or through the donation of stem cells from a healthy donor.
Perhaps the most successful use of stem cells to date has been the use of bone marrow transplants to treat cancers of the blood and immune systems. In the future, stem cell research offers a potentially revolutionary way of treating and ultimately curing a range of conditions such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, diabetes, multiple sclerosis and brittle bone disease in children (osteogenesis imperfecta).
While there is still much research work to do, the possibilities for medical progress are very significant.
Everyone has stem cells in their bodies, and they occur at the very earliest stages of development through to adulthood. Action Medical Research has been funding work that involves the use of adult stem cells for many years, which aims to use the patient’s own cells or those of healthy donors.
Scientists believe that future medical progress will be achieved by undertaking research in all types of human stem cells, including very early embryos. Research involving embryonic stem cells is subject to stringent regulations by various government agencies, to ensure work adheres to the highest standards and is regulated by two acts of parliament;
i) The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 which instructs the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to be responsible for regulating the use of embryos in the derivation of cells and tissues, and following derivations,
ii) The Human Tissue Authority (as instructed by the Human Tissue Act 2004) is responsible for the processing, storage and distribution of any cell lines or tissues, including fetal tissue.
Any research involving embryos or fetal tissues requires approval from an independent research ethics committee.
Action Medical Research will consider funding stem cell research that involves human embryonic stem cells providing it follows these strict UK regulatory guidelines.