The 9th in this series of congresses which began in 1993, was held at the Hilton Prague Hotel, Czech Republic, on 24–28 August 2014. Its organisation was co-chaired by Dagmar Jirová (Prague) and Horst Spielmann (Berlin), on behalf of the Alternatives Congress Trust, with the administrative support of Guarant International.
The Congress was attended by about 1,100 participants, and the programme consisted of seven plenary lectures, more than 450 oral presentations, and about 500 posters. In addition, there was an exhibition with 60 booths, plus a number of satellite meetings and workshops, and many private discussion sessions.
The overall focus of the Congress was Humane Science in the 21st Century, as represented by nine main themes: new technologies; predictive toxicology; the Three Rs in academia and education; communication, dissemination and data sharing; efficacy and safety testing of drugs and biologicals; human relevance; ethics; refinement and welfare; and global co-operation, regulatory acceptance and standardisation.
The congress facilities provided by the hotel were superb, which helped to make this a particularly friendly congress. Many of the participants in the 1993 Congress were present, but it was also good to see a great number of younger scientists, 41 of whom had been specifically invited due to generous sponsorship.
It would be impossible to say much in detail about the Congress, given the enormous variety of topics covered. However, it is worth noting that two of the plenary lecturers gave contrasting insights into the state of humane science and the Three Rs as it is today.
Uwe Marx (Berlin) described the breathtaking progress being made toward developing a “human-on-a-chip”, as means of providing information of direct relevance to humans, replacing the need to resort to laboratory animal models. Early organ-on-a-chip versions — comprising artificial lungs, liver, kidneys, heart and gut — are already in use.
By contrast, Roman Kolar (Neubiberg) warned that many apparent commitments to the Three Rs have proved to be no more than lip-service, and political initiatives to avoid or replace animal experimentation have either failed dramatically, or have been watered down in the political decision-making process.
Of the Three Rs, it appeared that Reduction was rarely mentioned in Prague, and Refinement, however welcome, pales into insignificance in the face of the huge ethical and logistical dilemmas involved in maintaining animals under laboratory conditions. Replacement took the centre stage in most of the sessions, but, given the year-on-year increase in the production and use of, in particular, genetically-modified animals, there is a lot more to be done before humane science becomes more than just a dream. The 10th Congress will be held in Seattle in 2017 — it is to be hoped that much more progress will have been made by then.