According to the World Health Organization, every year, between 250.000 and 500.000 patients suffer a spinal cord injury (SCI). The injury has dramatic consequences such as the loss of the ability to move the arms or legs, the loss of sensation or paresthesia, circulatory problems, and loss of vegetative functions like the control over the bladder and bowel.
Wings for Life is a certified not-for-profit spinal cord research foundation and was founded in 2004 to find a cure for spinal cord injury. We fund world-class scientific research and clinical trials around the globe aimed at healing the injured spinal cord.
The scientists face major challenges, because the pathological processes after a spinal cord injury are very complex. Spinal cord injury induces the destruction of nerve fibers, tissue bleeding, inflammation and immune responses.
So far it remains impossible to show the neurobiological complexity of a spinal cord injury - in a clinically relevant way - without in-vivo (in living organism) models. The disease cannot be modeled in the dish and scientists rely on animal research.
In 2010, the EU released guidelines on protecting animals used for scientific purposes. These guidelines are designed to ensure that new pharmaceutical and medical products and procedures are developed in accordance with the highest scientific and animal welfare standards.
Wings for Life is aware of the great responsibility and high ethical obligation. Our foundation funds only projects according to the Three Rs principle:
- Refinement: Animal research is only conducted if no alternative methods are possible
- Reduction: The number of animals is kept as low as possible, for example through a sophisticated experimental design and methodological and statistical optimizations
- Replacement: Scientific methods are constantly being improved to minimize the stress that might be placed on the animals.
Wings for Life funded scientists are obliged to do everything in the interests of animal welfare. All research projects are approved by the Ethical Committees of the funded institution (e.g. Harvard Medical School) and the state authorities, according to the Helsinki Declaration and the Belmont Report.
We are aware that every animal research model represents a conflict between two ethical obligations: On the one hand, medical research is looking for ways to reduce human suffering and on the other hand, there is a duty to protect the lives of animals and prevent them from suffering.
In the field of spinal cord research there are therefore two options:
- stopping pre-clinical animal research completely, even if such experiments are unavoidable if one wishes to make medical progress, or
- allowing responsible and selective research, monitored by ethics committees, to take place in professional and highly specialized facilities
Wings for Life has actively chosen the second of these options. We are committed to conduct research that will improve the treatment of people with spinal cord injuries. Wings for Life’s objective is to minimize human suffering caused by lifelong disability. Of course, Wings for Life accepts the right of other parties to reach a different conclusion and fully respect their views.
References and further literature
Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International
European Law regulating animal experiments (2010/63/EU)
National Center for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research
World Health Organisation (WHO)
World Health Organisation (WHO), primer