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Non-animal research lab opens at UWindsor

A $1 million donation representing the largest single gift in the history of the University of Windsor has allowed the institution to open the first research centre for alternatives to animal testing methods in Canada.

Charu Chandrasekera, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM), gave donors Eric and Dana Margolis a tour of the centre Thursday.

The centre’s main laboratory has been named the Eric S. Margolis Research and Training Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Methods.

“This is giving the university a unique opportunity to stand out in the educational and scientific landscape in North America,” Eric Margolis said.

Chandrasekera pitched her idea for a research lab that would seek out alternatives to animal testing to the Eric. S. Margolis Family Foundation just last November.

She came to the Toronto-based foundation seeking $100,000 in funding but her persistence and passion for the project convinced Dana and others on the foundation board to almost instantly up the ante to $1 million.

Dana shared the news with Chandrasekera while she was still making the drive back to Windsor.

“It was the biggest surprise of my life,” Chandrasekera said. “This has been an incredible journey taking this centre from a thought in my head to what it is today.”

The CCAAM and its accompanying Canadian Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (CaCVAM) aim to develop, validate and promote non-animal, human biology-based platforms in biomedical research, education and chemical safety testing.

Dana and Eric Margolis are long-time champions of animal welfare.

“I have always hated animal cruelty,” Eric said. “And animal testing is barbaric and extreme.”

As the former owner and chairman of Windsor’s Jamieson Laboratories, Margolis banned animal testing by the company.

“I became the chief guinea pig for the company,” said Margolis who recalled fond memories of time spent at Biff’s coffee shop and the Tunnel Bar-B-Q restaurant.

“When we had this opportunity to work on this project, I was doubly delighted,” he said. “To stop any and all animal testing is one of my heart’s main projects and second, it’s here in dear old Windsor. Windsor is just the right place for it.”

Chandrasekera noted there’s a “global shift” away from animal testing and that Canada lags behind in that movement. Research has shown that a staggering 95 per cent of drugs tested to be safe and effective in animals fail in human clinical trials.

“We have to think beyond animals,” Chandrasekera said. “We need to join 21 st century science and use human-based biology methods.”

Already the centre is deep into a number of projects including Diabetes In a Dish. Instead of using rats or mice, scientists are studying the disease using 3D printed tissue in a petri dish.

The centre and Health Canada have partnered to modernize the methods for chemical safety testing without the use of animals.

The centre is also reaching out to educate the next wave of research scientists in a partnership with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board that will put an end to the classroom dissection of frogs. Instead, students will use simulated frog dissection kits provide by CCAAM.

“If we can do something without harming animals, why wouldn’t we,” said WECDSB superintendent Dan Fister who was on hand for Thursday’s ceremony.

In her video presentation, Chandrasekera showed side-by-side photos of two domestic cats.

“Eric and I share the fact that our lives were transformed by two precious felines,” she said of her late pet Mowgli and Margolis’ late pet Little Cat. “I know they’re looking down on us from cat heaven today.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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