How to promote the use of new approach methodologies via the RE-Place project in Belgium

In the life sciences, new and innovative technologies are continuously evolving. Some of these technologies avoid the direct use of living animals and are also referred to as "New Approach Methodologies (NAMs)". Different descriptions of the term NAMs are available, but currently there is not yet one harmonized definition. NAMs include in vitro and ex vivo methods, in silico modelling, in chemico assays, in vivo models based on the use of lower organisms (such as C. elegans and D. melanogaster) and many other innovative animal-free techniques. They can be found in all different disciplines in basic and applied research, but also in regulatory testing. 

NAMs include thus new technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, organ-on-a-chip and many more) as well as the typical, more conventional replacement methods (e.g. to measure straightforward endpoints in local toxicity such as eye and skin irritation) or methods that provide information on the underlying mechanisms of action. Due to the fast progress of these technologies, (young) scientists can struggle to find relevant information on NAMs. In order to facilitate their search, the Flemish government initiated in 2017 the project "RE-Place" which aims to collect the existing expertise on the use of NAMs in one central database. The Brussels Capital region joined this project in 2018, and a collaboration with the Walloon region is in progress. An online tool has been developed, via which all information on NAMs is collected to be integrated in an easy-to-use open access database, available via www.RE-Place.be. In May 2021, the RE-Place database contained over 150 NAMs, each linked to a direct contact person in Belgium, covering a wide array of scientific areas. This information is freely available for all different stakeholders (academics, regulators, industry experts, government bodies, policy makers). The RE-Place database enables scientists to (i) promote their work, (ii) exchange experiences on the use of NAMs, and (iii) engage in new collaborations by connecting them with their peers. By facilitating access to the available expertise and improving communication, RE-Place will grow as a powerful tool to stimulate the use of NAMs, promote their (further) development, and allow the identification of knowledge gaps to better allocate future funding. Overall, RE-Place will contribute to the replacement and reduction of animal testing, wherever scientifically possible.

Authors

Mieke Van Mulders(1,2), Nancy Liodo Missigba (2,1), Birgit Mertens (1*), Vera Rogiers (2*)

Organisations

(1) SD Chemical and Physical health risks, Sciensano, Brussels, Belgium (2) In Vitro Toxicology and Dermato-Cosmetology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium (*) equally contributing authors

Presenting author

Mieke Van Mulders, Scientist, Sciensano/VUB
mieke.vanmulders@sciensano.be
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