Rats! Queen Mary scientist commended for saving rodents from lab tests

Prof Gareth Sanger meeting the Queen who visited the Royal London today

Prof Gareth Sanger meeting the Queen who visited the Royal London today - Credit: QM

A scientist meeting the Queen today told her about the commendation he won yesterday for his lab experiments with human tissue taken from patients under the surgeon’s knife—rather than using rats instead.

Gareth Sanger, neuro-pharmacology professor at the University of London’s Queen Mary college, met the Queen on her visit to the Royal London in Whitechapel.

He was one of three runners-up in the annual awards of the National Centre for Replacement & Reduction of Animals in Research, he told her.

The awards recognise scientific advances to replace, reduce or refine use of animals.

Prof Sanger uses human gastro-intestinal tissues as effectively as rat tissue to test new therapies for gut problems.

“The tissues need to be used live,” Professor Sanger explained. “So we have to collect them whatever time they’re available during surgery.

“This is the alternative to animal research.”

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His team managed to get samples from 71 patients — enough to produce reliable and clinically-relevant results.

The value of lab research using human tissue has always been questioned in the science world because studies were limited to small samples which don’t allow for variations such as age, sex and lifestyle.

But Prof Sanger’s team worked with surgeons where more patients were approached before operations for permission to take tissue samples that are normally removed during surgery.

His work is “a culture shift” which the National Centre for reducing animal research says avoided using 560 rats in his study.