On 10 and 11 February 2016, the workshop "AKtimo" - Alternative Small Mammalian Experimental Models was held as part of the project "Vole Infection Model - VoInMo", which is funded by the Zoonoses Platform. The event was held at the headquarters of the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute on the island of Riems, Greifswald. Besides national scientists, the Polish working group of Prof. Pawel Koteja and guest speaker Tony Schountz from Colorado State University participated. A total of 35 scientists interested in the topic had registered for the workshop.
The keynote speeches by Pawel Koteja ("The emergence and elimination of PUUmala virus infection in the experimental colony of bank voles) and Tony Schountz ("Reservoir Host Immune Responses to Hantaviruses") took place in the new conference room of the institute and were thus made available to about 80 additional scientists. Prof. Martin Pfeffer (University of Leipzig) and Dr. Rainer G. Ulrich (Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute) completed the scientific program with review lectures on zoonotic pathogens in various wild rodents.
In addition to interesting short lectures on different animal experimental models such as the bank vole, shrew, dormouse and opossum, current research data from infection studies and new methods were presented and discussed. Between the lectures and at the Social Dinner, the time was used to discuss new projects and to conclude cooperation agreements. Furthermore, the workshop was used to expand the genetic pool of the bank vole breeding of the FLI with 20 breeding animals from Poland.
Establishment of animal experimentation models as the eye of the needle
The workshop showed very clearly that the difficulties in establishing alternative animal experimental models are often similar. This is an essential component in the successful study of zoonoses occurring in rodents. The available literature is mostly based on data from field research and is only of limited use for experimental test procedures. A further problem of the different working groups are clinical reference values of the sometimes very different rodent species and finding suitable tools. Thus, after the workshop, the participants were asked about the laboratory methods already tested and a list of requirements of the different groups was determined. It became apparent that especially reference values of the "normal status" are missing, because the data from field studies cannot be determined under controlled conditions and secondary influences cannot be excluded. Furthermore, the lack of immunological tools for the adaptive immune response is a major problem, especially in infection research. Thus, the systems available on the open market are largely based on rats, mice or hamsters. In addition, high-quality genetic data are lacking in the databases to advance e.g. microarray technology.
The need to further develop the already existing alternative animal experimental models and to establish new models will most likely increase in the next few years. The understanding of reservoir hosts and the interaction with different pathogens is essential to develop control strategies against zoonoses in rodents. The workshop made a small contribution to highlight the problems of different groups and to create a common focus for future projects.