Two awards to master degree thesis for the contribution to Refinement and Reduction in non-human primate research

Two study prizes from the Emilia-Romagna Region awarded to two former students of the University of Parma in the context of the call for theses work concerning alternative methods to animal experimentation: 1,000 euros for two master's degree theses in Psychobiology and Cognitive Neuroscience carried out at Unipr and focused on innovative methodologies that aim to reduce the number of animals and refine basic research on brain functions.

The authors of the awarded theses (already evaluated with full marks and honours) are Elena Ferretti and Giulia Rigamonti. The theses were carried out in the Neuroethology Laboratory of non-human primates of the University of Parma, under the supervision of professor Luca Bonini. Elena Ferretti and Giulia Rigamonti are currently research fellows in the same laboratory.

The Emilia-Romagna Region recognizes the value and importance of animal experimentation when there is no other scientifically valid experimental method, however it is committed to supporting new strategies that allow it to be reduced and, when possible, eliminated. A commitment that follows a technical-scientific collaboration agreement signed in recent months with the four Universities of Bologna, Parma, Modena-Reggio and Ferrara.

The selection of the awarded theses was carried out by a commission appointed ad hoc by the Department of Health Policies and made up of the head of the Collective Prevention and Public Health Service of the Region, two members of the Regional Ethics Committee for animal experimentation, an expert of the Experimental Zooprophylactic Institute of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna and by a representative of the Ministry of Health.

The thesis work, carried out in the context of a European project funded by the European Research Council, concerned the measurement of the neural correlates of motor behaviors investigated with telemetric techniques which allow, compared to the classical approaches to the study of the functioning of the primate brain, to record neuronal activity while the animal is completely free to move in its environment, thus validating a more refined and respectful approach to animal ethology and potentially capable of replacing the much more invasive and limiting methods of classical neurophysiology on monkeys.

In addition to the positive impact on animal welfare, the possibility of acquiring greater amount of better quality data on the individual animal helps to reduce the number of animals used. These new technologies produce unprecedented information for the development of neuroprosthetic approaches and understanding the functioning of the brain under natural conditions. Understanding the functioning of the brain in unconstrained conditions, without the classic limitations of the laboratory, represents an extraordinarily important frontier in order to be able to effectively affect and improve the quality of life of patients with neurological diseases in their daily contexts: technologies for the telemetric recording of neural activity from free-ranging animals therefore represent the future of neuroscientific brain research, as long as the use of the animal model remains inevitable and irreplaceable.