Document ReferencePMB
TitlePapers of Professor Michael Balls (b.1938), scientist and Professor of Medical Cell Biology at the University of Nottingham
Extent31 boxes and 1 oversize packet
AbstractFiles and printed materials collected by Professor M. Balls during the course of his career as an academic, as Head of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, and as Chairman of the Trustees of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME).
Access ConditionsThe bulk of the collection is accessible to all readers. However, access to some items is restricted under current Data Protection legislation. Please see our Access Policy or contact us for further advice.
Admin HistoryMichael Balls was born in 1938 in Norwich, Norfolk. He studied Zoology at the University of Oxford. After graduating in 1960 he conducted research for a DPhil from Oxford at the University of Geneva, Switzerland between 1961 and 1964 with Professor Michael Fischberg. This was followed by post-doctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley, with Professor Harry Rubin, and at Reed College, Portland, Oregon, USA, from 1964 to 1966, with Professor Laurens Ruben. On his return to the UK in August 1966, he took up a position as Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the new University of East Anglia, Norwich, where he became a Senior Tutor for the School. In 1975, he was appointed a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Human Morphology at the University of Nottingham, subsequently becoming a Reader in Medical Cell Biology in 1985 and was made Professor of Medical Cell Biology in 1990. Since 1995, he has been an Emeritus Professor with the University of Nottingham.

Honorary appointments
Professor Balls was appointed a CBE in 2002 for his contributions toward humane animal research and has received many awards and honours during his career for his work in advancing alternative methods to animal testing, for services to cell biology, for contributions to the welfare of laboratory animals and for his role in advancing the field of in vitro toxicology. Honorary appointments include: Secretary/Treasurer for the British Society for Cell Biology (1973-1980); Secretary/Treasurer for the British Society for Developmental Biology (1978-1983); Secretary-General of the European Developmental Biology Organisation (1980-1990); Member of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the International Society of Development and Comparative Immunology (1998-2008).

His research career started with using the advantages of amphibian cells and tissues in vitro (‘in glass’), initially attempting to induce tumours in amphibian organ cultures (especially Xenopus laevis, the South African clawed toad). Over time, he came to focus on human cell cultures and the use of in vitro tests to replace in vivo experiments on live animals.

Teaching and reviewing books
Professor Balls has also been involved in the teaching of science in schools and taught at Eton College for a short time. In the early 1970s, he was Chairman of the Campaign for the Advancement of Norfolk Education (CANE), which sought the establishment of comprehensive schools in Norfolk to replace grammar and secondary modern schools. Throughout his career, Professor Balls has been involved in the reviewing and editing of books. He has published numerous books and articles on various aspects of the use of animals in medical experiments and presented at many international conferences. In 2020 he published his autobiography, 'Dewing Things Differently: From Norwich to the World and Back Again ... and Again' (Bicester: Words By Design, 2020); a revised version was published in 2021 in which he commented on the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

University of Nottingham
At the University of Nottingham, he was a member of the Animal Unit Management Committee and the Teaching Committee of the School of Biomedical Sciences. He also established the Ransom Lectures which were still running as at 2021 and established the FRAME Alternatives Laboratory (FAL) which formally opened on 15 February 1991. It formed part of the Department of Human Morphology and concentrated on replacements for acute toxicology testing such as the notorious LD50 (lethal dose) test and the Draize eye irritancy test in rabbits. Many of its findings are now accepted in mainstream research, contributing to a reduction in the number of animals used for toxicology testing. The FAL also provided opportunities for many undergraduates and PhD students of the University to become involved in the research.

The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) was established by Dorothy Hegarty in London in 1969, to work to relieve the suffering of animals used as subjects in biomedical research, and to promote and support research into acceptable new techniques as substitutes for the use of animals in all such research. Professor Balls was invited to become a Trustee of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) in 1979, taking over as Chairman of the Trustees in 1981. He continued as Chairman until 2013 at which point he was made Honorary Life President of FRAME. From 1982 to 2019, he was also Editor of FRAME’s award-winning journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA). He was responsible for moving the headquarters of FRAME to Nottingham, where it is still based in 2021. Balls was also Chairman of the FRAME Toxicity Committee (1979-1988), Scientific Director (from 1981-1993), Secretary of the FRAME Toxicity Committee (1988-1991) and Honorary Scientific Adviser to the Chief Executive (2017-). The Michael Balls Award is presented annually by FRAME in recognition of Professor Balls' dedication to ATLA during his 37 years as Editor-in-Chief. The annual award is given to the author(s) of the article in the previous year’s volume of ATLA likely to make the most significant contribution to the reduction, refinement and/or replacement of animal experimentation.

As a Member of the Home Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Animal Experiments (1984-1987), he acted as an adviser to the British government during the drafting and passage of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and was a founder member of Animal Procedures Committee, created by the Animals Scientific Procedures Act 1986, which advises the Home Secretary on all matters related to animal experimentation.

M. Balls was co-founder, secretary, and (1978-1983) British Representative on the Executive Board of the European Research Group for Alternatives in Toxicity Testing (ERGATT), an informal group with members from each of the main European countries.

In 1993 Professor Balls moved to Ispra, Italy to become the Head of the newly established European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), Environmental Institute, Joint Research Centre, European Commission. ECVAM was founded to lead the application of the validation process at the European level. He left ECVAM in June 2002, returning to Norfolk, to allow his predecessor to lead on the 6th Framework Programme.

The Three Rs
M. Balls first came across the concept of alternatives in 1975 when Professor David Smith, author of 'Alternatives to Animal Experiments', suggested approaching animal welfare charities to support his research. He became a proponent of the Three Rs principles of humane experimental technique: reduction, refinement and replacement, introduced by William Russell and Rex Burch in their publication 'The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique' (W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch, London, 1959). On discovering the work of Russell and Burch, M. Balls sought to promote the concept to a wider audience. In 2009 he produced an abridged version of 'The Principles' for those whose first language is not English which later went on to be translated into Chinese and Korean ('The Three Rs and the Humanity Criterion', 2009). He was a member of the organising committee of the World Congresses on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences (1982-1988) and went on to co-chair the Second World Congress in Utrecht (1996) and the Third World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, Bologna, Italy (1999). The Congress accepted a declaration, prepared by the Executive Committee of the Congress, which states 'The participants in the 3rd World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences strongly endorse and reaffirm the principles put forward by Russell and Burch in 1959. Human science is a prerequisite for good science, and is best achieved in relation to laboratory animal procedures by the vigorous promotion and application of 'The Three Rs'. Professor Balls became interested in researching how the Three Rs came to be defined and how the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare project, which led to the publication of the 'The Principles', came about. He was responsible for the transfer of the papers of William Russell to Manuscripts and Special Collections in 2008.
Custodial HistoryThese papers were gifted by Professor Balls in August 2019, along with his papers relating to his work at the the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) (MS 1016).
DescriptionThe collection consists primarily of files of correspondence (the format changing to represent the shift in technologies from typing, through the use of fax machines, to printed emails). The papers demonstrate the wide range of activities M. Balls was involved with, including teaching, collaborating with fellow scientists in industry and academia, peer reviewing of books and articles, engaging with politicians to influence policy or raise funding, navigating the bureaucracy and politics of working for the European Union, editing a peer-reviewed journal and publishing scientific papers, acting as a trustee for a charity and travelling the world to present at workshops and symposia. There is relatively little raw scientific data, but instead the papers represent the work involved in running research projects (sharing findings and samples with fellow scientists, purchasing lab equipment, hiring research assistants, etc.).

Professor Balls career was dedicated to persuading others to move away from using animals in scientific experiments by demonstrating that the use of alternatives yielded better and more human-relevant ways of conducting biomedical research and testing, which was in the interest of both animal welfare and human welfare. His early correspondence filing (PMB/2/1) does feature some details of his early research work, which involved using amphibians (such as the procuring of Xenopus Laevis, the South African clawed toad). However, material which might be considered distressing (featuring graphic images or descriptions of animals used in experiments), tends to be found solely in the press coverage of animal welfare campaigns or in leaflets produced by animal rights activist organisations, which are present in small numbers in the collection. The collection would be of interest to anyone examining the changing approaches used by animal welfare advocates of all types, from animal rights extremists, to politicians and scientists from industry and academia. The collection also reveals how M. Balls own stance has developed over time.

His published autobiography, 'Dewing things differently', is essential reading and features a useful timeline and list of acronyms. A second edition was published in 2021 with an updated comment on the coronavirus pandemic (PMB/1/18).

The early correspondence filing (PMB/2/1) show the nature of the work M. Balls was involved in during the planning for and on his return to the UK from the USA. It includes correspondence with fellow researchers in the US, which provides a fascinating account of a time of great change in American society, including Anti-Vietnam War protests and concerns about free speech and policing on campus (at Berkeley), and the segregation still evident in the education system in the southern states. Later correspondence relates to the transfer of the papers of William Russell to Manuscripts and Special Collections (PMB/2/2)

The main series of files (PMB/3), which forms the bulk of the collection, is organised roughly chronologically and reflects the various activities M. Balls was involved in. There is a small amount of material relating to his early research and a series of files relating to his lecturing and other duties at the University of East Anglia. There are also some papers from his short spell of teaching at Eton, and papers relating to his role as Secretary/Treasurer for the British Society for Cell Biology (1973-1980) and Secretary/Treasurer for the British Society for Developmental Biology (1978-1983).

Professor Ball's interest in education comes across in the papers relating to the teaching of science in schools and universities and the files (PMB/3/3) relating to the Campaign for Advancement of Education in Norwich (CANE). It is clear from numerous files that throughout his academic career, he took his pastoral role seriously and put a lot of energy into developing the careers of junior researchers.

There is also a file relating to his work with the European Research Group for Alternatives in Toxicity Testing (ERGATT) and a number of files relating to the trials and tribulations of his time at the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), revealing the stresses he was under due to the ambitions of the programme of work, the constant travelling and the frustrations of dealing with bureaucracy (PMB/3/8).

A series of files relate to his interest in the development of the Three Rs and the origins of the work 'The Principles', containing correspondence with William Russell and Rex Burch and published articles about their work (PMB/3/9).

The collection of reprints (PMB/4) provides a useful overview of the research work Professor Balls was involved in, although it is not a comprehensive collection of everything he has published. Some of the articles report the findings of scientific research, others, particularly editorials written by M. Balls for the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), would be a good starting point for reading about campaigns and issues which he considered to be of particular concern (for example, the use of chimpanzees, progress in promoting the Three Rs, moral questions concerning the use of animals, the ethical responsibilities of the cosmetics industry). There are also a number of PhD theses and files of offprints written by others (PMB/5).

Scans made by Professor Balls of original photographs still in his possession provide a visual overview of some of the key moments and people in his life (PMB/7). Some of these have been published in his autobiography.
MgtGroupPersonal papers
MgtSubGroupUniversity member
ArrangementMaterial has been arranged by type and the files have been arranged chronologically to reflect the various aspects of M. Balls' career. Within the files, the older papers are to be found at the back of the file and the description of the contents follows this chronological order.

PMB/1: Records of achievements, autobiography, etc.; 1961-2021 (2 boxes).
PMB/2: Correspondence; (4 boxes)
PMB/3: Files; 1963-2015 (19 boxes)
PMB/4: Reprints from ATLA; 1977-2016 (3 boxes)
PMB/5: Publications (theses and offprints); 1960-2008 (2 boxes)
PMB/6: Powerpoint presentations: 1 folder of printouts from events dated 2002-2009); digital files from events dated 1995-2021.
PMB/7: Digital photographs
TermLaboratory animals
Alternative toxicity testing
Toxicology -- Animal models -- Moral and ethical aspects
Animal experimentation
Cell biology
Animal welfare
Russell, W. M. S. (William Moy Stratton)
FindingAidsCopyright in all finding aids belongs to The University of Nottingham. Online: Available on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, accessible from the website of Manuscripts and Special Collections.
ReprodnNoteReprographic copies can be supplied for educational and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.
Related MaterialArtificial collection of materials relating to Professor William M.S. (Bill) Russell (1925-2006); 1996-2009) (MS 1045).
Papers of Professor Michael Balls (b.1938), Chairman of the Trustees of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) (MS 1016)
Papers of Professor William Moy Stratten Russell (1925-2006) and Claire Russell (née Hillel) (1919-1999); 1920s-2000s (WCR)
Related RecordMS1045
Publication NoteBalls, Michael. 'Dewing Things Differently: From Norwich to the World and Back Again ... and Again' (Bicester: Words By Design, 2021), PMB/1/15
Balls, M. (2009) 'The Three Rs and the Humanity Criterion: An Abridged Version of the Principles of Humane Experimental Technique byW.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch', Nottingham: FRAME, PMB/1/18
W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch, 'The principles of humane experimental technique', London: Methuen (1959), Manuscripts & Special Collections (KMC) Reference Ref QP48 .R8

Click the links below to view related name indexes

CodePersonNameDates of existence
DS/UK/89575Balls; Michael (b.1938); Professor; Scientist and Professor of Medical Cell Biology at University of Nottinghamb.1938
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