The animal-free way forward re Covid-19

Some of you, like me, will be concerned about the Oxford University vaccine research on various animal species for Covid-19. Much as we want accurate testing and a  vaccine, I can’t help thinking animals have done nothing to deserve this!

As we are all seriously talking about changing the way we use and abuse our planet, the way we treat animals in every sphere of life is surely a vital part of that.

The great news is that not all research into Covid-19 uses animals. 

Professor Lorna Harries (I had the pleasure of meeting her in Exeter to discuss her animal-free diabetes research) is developing a new test funded by Animal Free Research (which has a really active Bude group, find them on Facebook) to check for Covid-19 in a different way to the current test which tells not only if someone has the virus but also crucially whether they are infectious. There is a link to her explanatory video here.

The life-saving research

The charity is providing funding of £52,000 to Professor Lorna Harries at the University of Exeter, who is developing a test that will aim to detect how much active virus an infected person is harbouring – known as viral load. This could help healthcare workers and others know when they are safe to return to work.

Professor Harries with Bude group member, Jackie Diffey

Professor Harries, who leads the Animal Free Research UK Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence (ARC 2.0) at the University of Exeter, said:  “Currently, people with COVID-19 can recover completely, yet still test positive. That’s because the tests detect any genetic material left over by the virus after it is inactivated by the immune system. If successful, this new test will specifically look for active virus, and tell us how much of it is present. It would be incredibly useful in helping people safely to return to frontline duties, or patients return to care homes.”

The science of it

The test will analyse the genetic material sub-genomic RNA, which is only present if the virus is active and the patient is potentially infectious. It is an adaptation of a test which recently featured in the journal Nature, which was developed to determine where in the body the virus was most concentrated.

The virus appears to pose a greater threat to people who are regularly exposed, such as  frontline healthcare workers. In future, researchers hope to develop a mathematical model to combine with the test to be able to develop a more personalised approach to predicting which patients are at risk of complications from COVID-19. The calculation will be based on factors such as their age and health histories, combined with the concentration of virus in their bodies.

Professor Neil Gow, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Impact at the University of Exeter, said: “It’s really exciting that this test has the potential  provide a much-needed service in the fight against COVID-19, and that its development is possible without using animals. We’re committed to innovative ways of reducing the use of animals in research. This commitment is in line with our ethos, governance principles and the legal framework that we deploy that insists on the highest ethical standards in all of our research involving animals.  This research conforms to, and is underpinned by, stringent Home Office-approved licences and monitoring.  We’re proud that we ensure and enforce the highest standards of animal care and welfare, and we’re committed to the principle of 3Rs – which is to replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in research wherever possible”.

Carla Owen, Chief Executive of Animal Free Research UK, said: “I’m proud that we at Animal Free Research UK are doing our bit to support the COVID-19 effort by funding important research into a more effective, animal-free diagnostic test. This devastating virus is bringing out the best of humanity’s collective genius, ramping up novel ways of understanding, testing and treating human disease using human relevant research without the use of animals. We believe Professor Harries’ test will ensure healthcare workers can get back to their vital jobs, protect the NHS, and save animal and human lives.”

Fund raising

To help raise funds for such vital research why not join in the 2.6 challenge?

Take part in an activity of your choice based around the numbers 2.6 or 26 and fundraise or donate to support Animal Free Research UK via

Whether you run around your home for 2.6 milesdo 26 press-ups with your dog on your backskip for 2.6 minutes with your children, or something else just as imaginative – you will help us be able to continue our vital work to end animal suffering.

The only strict requirement is that you must make sure it is safe, at or near your home and that it adheres to Government guidelines on exercise and social distancing during the lockdown. 

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