Research with animals, a necessity for scientific progress

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EPFL promotes the use of gentle handling techniques and trains animal caretakers

EPFL promotes the use of gentle handling techniques and trains animal caretakers and experimenters to avoid tail-handling whenever possible. © Selina Slamanig, GBS St. Gallen

SUMMER SERIES: HOW SCIENCE WORKS Despite the many advancements in developing innovative alternative methods, animal testing still plays an important role in biological and medical research, enabling scientists to make key new discoveries. At EPFL, performing high-quality research is a priority for scientists, as is taking proper care of the mice, rats and fish in the facilities.

On a rainy day in June 2020, Georgy Froté got up and went for a walk at the Balgrist University Hospital on the shores of Lake Zurich. Taking one step after another, he succeeded in walking 17 meters entirely on his own. "Nobody thought this was possible!" he says, wishing he’d gone farther. Froté, who is from the Jura region, lost the use of both of his legs after a serious motorcycle accident in 2010. However, thanks to a new device developed by Grégoire Courtine, a professor at EPFL, and Jocelyne Bloch, a neurosurgeon at the Lausanne University Hospital (CHUV) - along with years of intensive training - Froté was able to regain some of his motor function. The device includes electrodes that were implanted just below the damaged area in his spinal cord in 2018. These electrodes are connected to a neurostimulator that generates electrical impulses similar to those naturally emitted by neurons, causing the legs to move.

A long and difficult road for this patient, for whom "a step has been taken". But also a scientific breakthrough that could never have happened without a decade of research on animal models. 

Valérie Geneux, Rémi Carlier

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