Dutch Initiatives to Accelerate the Transition Towards Innovative Animal-free Science

Am Mittwoch, den 2.3.2022 um 19 Uhr findet das 11. Webinar in der 3R-Fortbildungsreihe statt (in englischer Sprache). Weitere Informationen und kostenfreie Anmeldung bei Eventbrite

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The 11th Webinar in the 3Rs training series, organized by the Animal Protection Commissioner of Berlin and the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), in collaboration with the Veterinary Chamber of Berlin, will take place on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, from 1 pm to 3 pm EST / 7pm to 9 pm CET.
Debby Weijers, Prof. Sue Gibbs and Dr. Evita van de Steeg will present their initiatives to accelerate the transition towards innovative, animal-free science in the Netherlands. Each speaker will give a 25 to 30-minute presentation.

  1. Debby Weijers: Stichting Proefdiervrij (The Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing)
  2. Prof. Sue Gibbs: The Helpathon
  3. Dr. Evita van de Steeg: Vital Tissue, an initiative to supply viable human materials to laboratories in The Netherlands
    After the three talks, we will have time for a Q&A.

Abstract of Debby Weijers' talk

Stichting Proefdiervrij (The Dutch Society for the Replacement of Animal Testing) strives for a world in which lab animals are obsolete. To fulfill our mission, we stimulate the development of non-animal methods by financially supporting research, disseminate gained knowledge, inform general public and lobby for more attention and money from the government. We are an NGO fully dependent on contributions from (mainly Dutch) citizens. Our activities are partly related to the Dutch initiative “TPI”(transition to animal free innovations). The initiative aims to become forerunner in the transition towards animal free innovations by stimulating a wide range of activities like a pilot study Vital Tissue and the organization of Helpathons. Our role in TPI is mainly disseminating the voice of the general public ánd the animals. By being the linking pin between all the different stakeholders involved in the subject, we aim to bring a lab-animal free world closer.


Debby Weijers, MSc, Director of Stichting Proefdiervrij, has a background in biology which is the link to her conviction we can improve science by stimulating animal free innovations. She started working for Proefdiervrij in 2014, as advisor science and innovation. In this role, she gave lectures at universities, built a network within the scientific community and enthused researchers to develop, implement and disseminate animalfree methods. In her current role (since 2017) she leads the team of 10 people facilitating their expertise in communication, fundraising, science, finance and HR management. Besides, she is the spokesperson of the foundation. She joined the helpathon team in 2020 and takes place in several advisory groups of international consortia. She has a very strong motivation to bring the mission of Proefdiervrij a step closer by bringing a positive attitude and willingness to collaborate.

Abstract of Prof. Dr. Sue Gibbs' talk on "The Helpathon"

Animal-free innovation becomes easier if you choose to do it together: with patients, researchers, financiers, health professionals and policy makers. That is what we do in a Helpathon. We realized that many scientists, who currently use animals for their research, were not aware of the vast amount of alternative methods already present, or under development. Furthermore, these scientists often thought that they had to do “even more” extensive animal experiments before being able to enter Phase 1 clinical trials because they had no experience with regulatory bodies; or they just found it easier to continue their basic research with their familiar animal model. Within the Dutch initiative: TPI (transition to animal free innovations), we initiated the Helpathon. A Helpathon is an innovation 2 day workshop led by the Helpathon Team. Our plan is to train scientists to think differently, show them the way, dare them to enter the world of non-animal methods, and to help them to realize their new plans. All in a very safe, friendly, informal environment with at least 8 (but more is better) people from different disciplines. The success of our Helpathons, which were financed from TPI, has motivated the Helpathon Team to continue their work and to find financing for 10 new Helpathons in 2020. Link to tpihelpathon
The Helpathon Team consists of Prof. dr. Sue Gibbs (Cell Biologist and Tissue Engineer); Dr Carine van Schie (health research funder); Debby Weijers (societal impact) Pepik Henneman (societal entrepreneur); Jantine Wijnja (co-creation facilitator); Ibrahim Korkmaz (administrator and Cell Biologist).


Prof. Dr. Sue Gibbs is Chair in skin and mucosa regenerative medicine at both Amsterdam University Medical Center and Academic Center for Dentistry Amsterdam (ACTA). Her entire career has focused on human skin and mucosa biology, in particular in animal alternative methods to develop novel therapeutic strategies for treating and preventing human disease. In vitro models are currently implemented for risk assessment and testing mode of action of compounds and novel actives, in collaboration with industry. In 2015, she received the national ‘’Daring in the Lab’’ prize by the Dutch Animal Protection society. Recently, her research has extended into the field of hair follicles and importantly ‘’organ-on-a-chip’’, in particular immune competent ‘’skin-, melanoma-, lymph node- and gut- on-a-chip’’. These models have the potential to provide a personalized medicine approach to treating human disease. She joined the TPI network in 2018 and helped initiate the Helpathon to assist scientists willing to transition to animal free innovations, winning the international LUSH prize in 2020 together with the Helpathon team.

Abstract of Dr. Evita van de Steeg's talk, entitled "Vital Tissue, an initiative to supply viable human materials to laboratories in The Netherlands

Drug safety and efficacy testing is frequently performed in laboratory animals, with limitations regarding extrapolation to humans. For the development of better translational methods, viable human tissue or cells are preferred over animals and immortalized cell lines, especially since several human (tissue specific) models have become available by recent scientific developments (e.g. models based on human tissue or iPSC derived cells/organoids). However, availability and access to high-quality viable human tissues is a hurdle for many researchers.
Here we present the initiative VitalTissue, a platform that aims to supply surgical residual tissues to researchers in end-user laboratories in a (financial) sustainable and transparent way. The initiators of the project have interviewed stakeholders (e.g. researchers, surgeons, patients) and conducted qualitative interviews and quantitative (online) polls, and conclude that there is a substantial unmet need for various types of human tissue, and that potential donors would generally consent to the use of their left-over tissues after medical procedures. We have addressed the legal, ethical, biosafety and logistic issues involved in the supply chain, and developed protocols for the VitalTissue supply chain regarding criteria for sample specification (tissue and donor inclusion criteria), logistics, and information management. Using these protocols, pilot studies were performed in which residual tissue (skin, liver, gut) were supplied from hospitals to researchers within the consortium in order to evaluate the (metabolic) viability of the human tissue samples. In conclusion, VitalTissue is a promising initiative for a supply chain of residual human tissue samples, which is widely supported by several stakeholders and organizations, and will be enrolled as soon as financial support has been arranged.
Link to vitaltissue;
Link to zonmw.nl


Dr. Evita van de Steeg (F) is senior scientist at the department MHR of TNO. She received her PhD in Pharmacology in 2010 (Utrecht University) and spent part of her PhD at the pharmaceutical company GSK (UK). Evita is an expert in the field of drug pharmacokinetics, specifically in studying intestinal uptake, microbiome-induced drug metabolism and hepatic handling of compounds. She (co)authored more than 35 publications in this area (h-index 25), supervised more than 20 MSc students and currently has 1 postdoctoral scientist in her lab and is co-promoter of 3 predoctoral PhD candidates. In her current function at TNO she is responsible for the development of innovative animal-free models to better predict profiles and activities of compounds (including nutrients and drugs) amongst others applying ex vivo human tissue models and organ on-a-chip models.