Reducing animal testing and accelerating medical research

Realistic patient models, known as ‘phantoms’, have important uses at many points of a biomedical pathway – from diagnostic imaging through to treatment planning and delivery. By utilising a variety of materials to mimic the physical characteristics of human and animal tissue, phantoms are employed worldwide to ensure the safety and quality of many treatments and diagnostic tools.

14 million new cancer patients are diagnosed across the world every year

Medical research requires highly-accurate measurements to be taken, be it when administering a treatment, carrying out a procedure or measuring an outcome. In this context, phantoms can provide more consistent results than the use of a living subject or cadaver. There is an opportunity here for the research community to reduce the number of animals used in  pre-clinical biomedical studies, by maximising the information obtained from animal models where possible. This is particularly relevant to radiotherapy, where pre-clinical studies are affected by a lack of standards and guidelines needed to ensure accurate, consistent doses of radiation are delivered to animal models. The mismatch between pre-clinical and clinical results means that many treatments may never reach the 14 million new cancer patients diagnosed across the world every year.

NPL is working to address these issues by optimising the use of medical phantoms in radiotherapy. With funding from Innovate UK‘s Non-Animal Technologies programme, NPL, in collaboration with the University of Hull and Xstrahl (a designer and manufacturer of X-ray therapy systems), is establishing new guidelines and a dosimetry service for the measurement of radiation dose in pre-clinical studies. This will give researchers access to standardised dosimetry protocols and tools such as a small animal phantom, to increase the reliability and comparability of results, and consequently reduce the number of animals needed.

NPL is also hosting a two-day workshop in September this year, with the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, to promote collaboration in developing new applications of 3D printing for medical phantoms.

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