The Great North Run for Animal Free Research UK

I feel a bit out of my depth writing this article, as:

1) I’m not a natural runner

2) I’m not a scientist/biologist/toxicology expert

but here goes…..

This time last Summer I’d completed the Gateshead 10K and was starting to build up my distance in preparation for the Great North Run half-marathon in September.

Training had been going ok and I’d loved running the Gateshead 10K: the weather was perfect (sunny but not too humid) and I’d discovered a love for Green Day; I’d had a few niggles with my knee and hip but nothing major. Then the events of 7th August changed everything….. my Dad had a massive haemorrhagic stroke. I flew home the next morning and managed to see him while be was still awake before he slipped into a coma the following day. We pretty much lived in the hospital for that week and Dad died 4 days later on my Sister’s 21st birthday. After his funeral and my return to Newcastle, I had no motivation to run, so I decided to defer my place.

Nearly a year later, he’s on my mind as I prepare for this year’s GNR. Training has been going better, I’ve been trying to do two shorter runs each week of 5-8 km, and last week I did my first proper long run: 17 km (10.5 miles) in heavy rain (see photo below!), carrying a bottle of water, with 4 jelly babies in my pocket! I’m learning how to time eating and drinking in relation to runs and forcing myself to stretch properly/ use my foam roller.

I’m doing the South Shields 10 mile run on 13th August, partly as a training run and partly as a distraction around the time of Dad’s anniversary and I’m hoping to continue to complete one long run plus two shorter runs each week until the GNR.

This year I’ve chosen to run for Animal Free Research UK (formerly the Dr Hadwen Trust) 🐭🐰🐱🐵🐷

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m strongly against animal testing for cosmetics, but as a future pharmacist, I also struggle with animal testing for medicine/drugs; I would love to see the day when animals are no longer used for medical research.

To use Alzheimer’s as an example, although it is a horrific illness, it saddens me that monkeys are ‘given’ a form of the disease, restrained in labs and then subjected to invasive and painful brain experiments before being euthanised. Alzheimer’s is an incredibly complex human disease which doesn’t occur naturally in animals, so how can we be sure that any treatment successful in preventing, halting or curing the man-made variety will have the same effect on the human form of the disease? Perhaps I’m already showing my ignorance and it is possible to replicate the complexity of the disease exactly……I’m open to correction from those of you with more knowledge on the subject!

Home Office figures show that in 2016, 3.94 million procedures on animals (including 4,932 procedures on 3,530 dogs, 3,569 procedures on 2,440 primates) were carried out in the UK, with the majority of procedures (1.91 million) carried out on genetically altered animals, mostly mice.

On their website, the charity Understanding Animal Research, which supports animal testing, states that larger animals such as pigs, dogs and monkeys account for less than 2% of animals used in research, which seems like it must be an insignificant amount, but when you look at the actual figures……to me 3500 dogs is not a small number! They also underplay the impact on the animals in their FAQs section:

Do animals suffer in research?

Most animal research involves little more than injections, taking small blood samples, feeding or breeding studies. If animals undergo surgery, they get anaesthetics just like human patients. Pain killers are given where appropriate and pain must always be minimised. But, if you are studying diseases such as cancer or arthritis which cause pain and suffering for patients, sometimes the research will cause animals to suffer.

Basically the short answer is Yes, they suffer!

The law governing animal testing was recently revised and came into force in Jan 2013: Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2012 (ASPA 2012). The 3Rs (principles of replacement, reduction and refinement) are outlined and the law now requires the government to do what it can to ensure the development of non-animal testing methods, which is where Animal Free Research UK comes in (although they receive no government funding).

Their vision is “a world where all animal experiments are no longer required and have been replaced by non-animal methods which are human-relevant”

and some highlights of their work include:

  • Launching their Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London in 2016, which focuses on animal free research into skin, breast and prostate cancers
  • Funding research that created an entirely new 3D model of human breast cancer, helping to replace mice with implanted tumours
  • Funding pioneering research using a MEG brain scanner, allowing safe human brain imaging and replacing invasive experiments on monkeys

This year’s summer students are privileged to be undertaking some very interesting projects, including using thiel-embalmed cadavers to research heart disease at the University of Dundee and protein profiling in Parkinson’s Disease at Nottingham Trent University.

One I chose to look into a little more……

Prediction Of Cytochrome P450 2D6 Interaction From Atomic Structure at the University of Hertfordshire

I chose this one because it’s directly related to pharmacy and drug development, and as a pharmacist it’s important to know which drugs are inducers or inhibitors of the Cytochrome P450 enzyme system to prevent potential drug-drug interactions in patients. The rate of metabolism of drugs also varies between individuals.

The aim of this research is to develop a sophisticated computer model of toxicology tests to determine whether particular medicines are likely to cause problems in patients whose bodies break drugs down more slowly, and to replace experiments conducted on mice, rats, beagles and primates. Toxicology tests must be some of the most painful and distressing for animals, as general symptoms/signs of drug toxicity include: severe nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness, drowsiness, increased heart rate, blurred vision, confusion, seizures, coma, respiratory distress and death. Doses can be administered as a one off, repeatedly over the course of days or weeks or over the entire lifespan of the animal and can be via various routes: orally, inhalation, injection into the animal’s muscles, or applied to the animal’s eyes or skin.

I hope the students publish a report on their work once their placements are complete as I’d love to know more!

 photo: Wyss Institute

This is Lung-on-a-chip, designed by the Wyss Institute at Harvard, and winner of Design of the Year at London’s Design Museum.

If you’re as intrigued as I am by this technology you can find out more here:

Animal Free Research UK

The Guardian

Wyss Institute

Organs-on-chips are still being developed and it’s all very new so validation will take time, but I’m in awe of anyone who can design a heart-on-a-chip! Although there will always be people who are sceptical about such innovative engineering, I fully support any scientific research that has the potential to replace animal models in the early phases of drug development.


If you’d like to sponsor me for the GNR/ support the work of Animal Free Research UK you can find my page here

Thanks for reading!






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