Braun HA, Schneider H, Wollweber B, Huber M, Voigt K. Computer Simulation and the Link between Alternatives in Education and in Research. Paper presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


For several years, the teaching programs of the ‘Virtual Physiology’ series, consisting of SimNerv, SimHeart, etc., are successfully used in practical physiology and pharmacology courses in medical, biological and related faculties at several hundreds universities and high schools all over the world. While these programs originally might have been seen as only minor substitutes of the real labs, it turned out in the course of teaching that they have major didactic advantages. The students are much more active in the virtual than in the real animal labs and they are doing the experiments without the negative emotions from the killing of animals and without fear of destroying the preparation. As a consequence, in many universities these programs have replaced the animal experiments, for example, with the frog sciatic nerve and gastrocnemius muscle or with isolated heart and smooth muscle preparations of rats and guinea pigs. More recently, an advanced series of virtual computer labs (‘cLABs’) has been developed which also allows experiments that would be to difficult for most students to be carried out physically but which can be realised in a virtual lab: cLabs-Neuron and cLabs-SkinSenses (for more information, see Moreover, such computer simulations are valuable tools not only for teaching but also for science, and have drastically reduced the number animal experiments in many research laboratories. The pharmaceutical industry has also recognised the power of computational approaches. Very recently, an EU ‘Network of Excellence’ (BIOSIM) has been approved which brings together about 20 university groups from all over Europe with several pharmaceutical companies with the aim of making use of computer simulations for more effective drug development at reduced costs, to be achieved through the reduction of clinical trials and also of animal experiments (see

Supported by BM&T (Heidelberg), DAQ-solutions (Lohra), Transmit (Giessen) and the EU BioSim Project.