Big data projects lining up to replace animal tests 

The Lush Prize is an annual award to scientists and campaigners who are working to replace animal testing. It is a collaboration between Lush Cosmetics and Ethical Consumer, and, in November of this year, it paid out £250,000 in total, with prizes awarded in a virtual ceremony.

The Lush Prize is now in its eighth year, but this is the first time that three of the winning projects have been based around ‘big data’ projects designed to replace animal tests.

‘Big data’ is a simplified name for computational toxicology, making computer-based health models on the basis of the large amounts of data being routinely gathered in the modern world. It is seen as one of the main potential replacements for animal testing.

Big data awards

The process of extracting and analysing large quantities of data has been aided by advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning. The ‘mining’ of Big data projects lining up to replace animal testsbig data can often find predictive trends or patterns far better and faster than traditional animal testing.

The Lush Prize has five main categories, and nominations are open to scientists and campaigners based anywhere in the world.

The three big data winners were all using computer databases to successfully predict the toxicity of chemicals for humans: Dr Tim Allen of Cambridge University won the prestigious £50,000 Science Prize, and two of the five Young Researcher awards were for big data, Dr Domenico Gadelata of Milan’s Mario Negri Institute and Edoardo Carnesecchi of Utrecht University.

Lush Prize Director Rob Harrison:

“The judges were particularly excited that this year’s shortlist contained a new wave of projects which were modelling the cellular pathways of toxic molecules in their datasets.

This combination of 21st century technologies showed perhaps the greatest promise yet for a widespread replacement of older and less reliable animal models on a global scale”

Campaigning and training

The prize also awards training and campaigners. The TPI Helpathon team in the Netherlands won the £50,000 prize for training. Their innovative brainstorming sessions help scientists who currently use animals explore new approaches. So popular was this concept that, during the Ceremony, requests came in from several countries for assistance in setting up similar schemes.

Campaigns to highlight animal testing and to change or introduce legislation are also given recognition. The Public Awareness Prize, also worth £50,000, was won by German animal rights organisation SOKO Tierschutz.

Its courageous undercover investigation at the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology in Germany not only led to the lab losing its licence to experiment on animals, but also saw its closure and the rehoming of all animals.

SOKO is the only organisation to win a Lush Prize twice, having won in 2015 for another exposé of an animal research lab.

The awards ceremony

The awards ceremony is usually a physical event but this year, for obvious reasons, was online. It was hosted by actor and comedian Neil Mullarkey, and the winners accepted their prizes live from around the world. It was part of our two-day conference titled ‘Can big data replace animal testing?’.

Our four panel sessions discussed areas such as animal testing and COVID-19 research, collaborations to advance the safety assessments of chemicals without using animals, and regulatory acceptance of non-animal research.

Once again we were fortunate to have presentations from some of the most influential people working on these issues, as well as more casual ‘fireside chat’ interviews with some of this year’s winners.

At the end of such a difficult year it was fantastic to be able to finally award the winners of the Lush Prize 2020, hold such a great live event, and provide £250,000 funding to scientists and campaigners to support their crucial and impactful work.

The Lush Prize Conference and Awards Ceremony can both be watched online at: www.lushprize.org

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