Almost a quarter of a million pounds has been awarded to a team of scientists at Sheffield Hallam University to develop a new technique that will reduce the need for animal testing in pre-clinical research projects.

The team has been given £244,045 to develop its Mass Spectrometry Imaging (MSI) technology to provide quantitative analysis of the level of protein found in biological tissue.

In previous projects that looked at the level of protein change in tumours following the administration of anti-cancer drugs, Sheffield Hallam researchers found that there was a need to be able to measure the change in protein levels to allow clinicians to have an accurate picture of how tumours respond to treatment.

While conventional analysis can only quantify a small number of proteins, MSI is a powerful tool that is used to map different molecules within tissue sections and can produce multiple images of protein responses to medical treatments.

Leading the team, Professor Malcolm Clench of the University's Biomedical Research Centre, said:
"If we were to study the activity of 50 proteins within tissue, under the usual method, you would need around 25 mice for testing but by using mass spectrometry imaging, only one mouse would be needed.

"We've had some exceptional feedback from the reviewers and this new funding will help us to improve the accuracy of the data it will produce and we can then look to introduce it into pre-clinical testing on a global scale."

Sheffield Hallam is one of only five institutions in the country to have been awarded the funding by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) in collaboration with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said:
"The potential for technological development to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in science is now well recognised across the research community. Preclinical imaging offers an opportunity for researchers to greatly reduce and refine animal use through longitudinal studies and identifying earlier endpoints to reduce suffering.

"However its application is often restricted by limitations with the current technologies available. This strategic funding allows the NC3Rs to target key areas identified by the research community where the development and application of new imaging techniques could have a profound impact on animal use and science."