Thursday, 19 January 2012

Software replaces animals in labs

PUDUCHERRY: In 1989, when Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education (JIPMER) wanted to cut down on the number of animals being used to teach undergraduate students of medicine, Prof R Raveendran developed a computer-assisted learning package. 'ExPharm' reduced the number of animals being experimented upon and also improved teaching.

"Students could keep repeating the experiments," says Raveendran, a professor of pharmacology. He was speaking at a medical education workshop on alternatives to the use of animals in MBBS programmes being held in JIPMER on Tuesday. It is part of a series of workshops organised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) India in medical colleges across the country.

Though ExPharm was developed in 1989, Raveendran could not use it for the next five years due to lack of hardware facilities. "We used the package for the first time in 1994 to demonstrate the effects of drugs on blood pressure and heart rates of dogs. This helped replace experiments on live dogs," he says. "We began developing a set of computer-simulated alternatives to animal experiments as we could not find suitable alternatives in the market."

The professor says ExPharm can be effectively used to simulate animal experiments and to demonstrate drug actions on different animal systems. The package is user-friendly, interactive and full of animated sequences that make the experience realistic.

"We used a lot of frogs but have stopped since last year," says Raveendran. "We have also cut down on the number of guinea pigs, mice, rats, rabbits, dogs and rabbits being used." He says that the number of mandatory animal experiments to be performed by students to pass final examinations was reduced to three from 15 in JIPMER with the introduction of the package.

Dr Raveendran utilized the Rs 1.2 grant lakh extended to him by the International Network for Humane Education to distribute 3,000 free CDs to colleges in India and abroad. He has also distributed 1,000 CDs through the Mahatma Gandhi Doerenkamp Centre for Alternatives to Use of Animals in Life Science Education ( MGDCA), Trichy. The package can be downloaded free of cost from MGDCA's website.

Elsevier India, professional information provider, has also decided to launch an advanced version, 'ExPharm Pro' in the commercial market soon.

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