Surgeons

All medicines that we have today—both for people and for animals—have been developed with the help of animal testing. And that also applies to medical treatments such as radiation and surgical techniques. The development of new medicines or the improvement of existing treatments is still dependent on animal testing. Scientists are even legally required to first test new treatments in at least two different test animal species before they can start a human study.

There are rules

You do not just simply do animal testing; there are strict laws and regulations. Moreover, the use of animals for scientific research is only permitted if there is no other option. In addition to a scientific assessment, every research application must include an ethical assessment which examines whether the potential burden on the animals outweighs the expected results of the research. Furthermore, the researcher must make it clear why the research is not possible using an alternative method or fewer animals, and how the distress of the animals is limited (the 3Rs). 

3R’s: Replacement, reduction and refinement

Organisations from the government, science, industry and civil society together look for methods that replace, reduce and refine animal testing. Each license application for animal testing submitted to the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) must substantiate how the 3Rs are met:

Replacement
More and more animal testing is being replaced by alternative methods, e.g. by computer simulations that mimic biological processes in the human body or through research in which human tissue can be used.

Reduction 
As few animals as possible are used for each test, e.g. by using data from previous studies. New research methods also yield more data from fewer animals.

Refinement
The burden on the animals is reduced as much as possible during animal testing, e.g. through good housing, nutrition and pain relief.

Researchers on animal testing

Medical science stands still without animal testing. Researchers explain why and how they conduct animal testing

A new centre

Maastricht University is building a new BioMedical Centre (BMC): a state-of-the-art facility for biomedical research, in particular research that involves animal testing. It will be a multifunctional, flexibly arranged building with laboratories and animal housing facilities that can also be adapted to changing circumstances—for example, when less animal testing is needed in the future.

Why a new building?

Our scientists are constantly working on developing new or better medicines or treatments for diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's and cardiovascular diseases. The university’s current animal research facility is housed in a building that is decades old, where not all desired innovations can be realised. The new BMC offers modern facilities, better conditions for the animals and better working conditions for the researchers and animal caretakers. The new BMC replaces the current animal research facility.

Current status

The final design of the building has been approved and the contractors and installation engineers have been selected. The application procedure for the building and environmental permit is currently ongoing. If all goes well, construction will start in the beginning of 2020 and the building will be ready for use in 2021.

Prof. dr. Martin Paul, president of Maastricht University:

“Our university fully supports the Dutch policy on animal testing: replacement, reduction and refinement. All animal tests performed here have been approved by the government and meet strict guidelines. The moment things can be done differently, we’ll stop using laboratory animals. But as long as animal testing remains the only route to the improvement of treatments for diseases like cancer and diabetes, we believe it’s important that our employees have the best possible facilities. That’s why we need the new BMC.”

BMC building

Fast Facts

UM BMC

  • At UM, scientific research is only conducted on mice, rats, rabbits, pigs, goats, sheep, zebrafish and sometimes guinea pigs and hamsters.
  • On average, 95% of the animals are mice and rats.
  • The number of animals used for testing is available in the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority’s (NVWA) annual publication in Zo Doende (in Dutch). 
  • The government currently requires scientists to use animal testing for medical innovations (see also the interview with Prof. Leon de Windt).
  • UM scientists are also working on alternatives to animal testing.
  • In recent decades, the number of animals used has been reduced considerably and the living conditions for the animals have improved considerably (see also the interview with Andreas Teubner, head of CPV).
  • Because it is expected to take several decades before alternatives are fully viable, UM is currently investing in a new lab animal facility to improve the quality of life of the animals and the quality of research.

Organisation

  • Research using animal testing is carried out at UM by the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML) and the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience (FPN).
  • The Central Animal Testing Facilities (CPV) provides the facilities necessary to carry out this research.
  • The Animal Welfare Body (IvD) checks the proposals and helps researchers with the project license applications. 
  • These applications are submitted to the Animal Ethics Committee (DEC). The DEC reviews the application and gives a recommendation to the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD).
  • The Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) is the governmental organisation that has exclusive authorisation to grant licenses for animal testing in the Netherlands.
  • The Netherlands National Committee for protection of animals used for scientific purposese (NCad) has been established for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and for education.

Legislation and regulation to animal testing

The use of animals for scientific purposes is only allowed in the European Union if there is no other option. This is outlined in the European directive on the protection of animals used for scientific research. All European Union member states must incorporate this directive into their national legislation and regulations.

  • In the Netherlands, this is the Animal Testing Act (Wod, 2014); the Animal Testing Resolution; and the Animal Testing Regulation.
  • Only institutions with a license are allowed to conduct animal testing. In the Netherlands, these are primarily universities and other research centres. UM complies with the Animal Testing Act and follows the Code of Conduct of the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD), as well as the Code of Transparency in Animal Testing (COD). This code has been drawn up to give concrete guidelines for addressing the widely held view in society that transparency regarding animal testing is desirable and necessary.
  • A license is required for each individual study. Multiple parties are involved in the process of applying for this license, so that all considerations are weighed carefully. In addition to a scientific assessment, every research application must include an ethical assessment which examines whether the potential burden on the animals outweighs the expected results of the research.
  • For each study involving animal testing, a research proposal that must meet a number of conditions is required to be submitted by the researcher(s). The Animal Welfare Body (IvD) checks the proposal and helps the researcher with the license application. This application is submitted by the authorised license holder to the Animal Ethics Committee (DEC). The DEC assesses the application and gives a recommendation to the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD). The CCD then grants the license or rejects the application. The CCD is the governmental organisation that has exclusive authorisation to grant licenses for animal testing in the Netherlands.
  • A non-technical summary (NTS) must accompany every license application for a study that involves animal testing. This contains the objectives of the study, a substantiation of the use of animals, and the expected negative consequences for the welfare of the animals, including the application of the 3 Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement). The NTS must be written in layman's terms so that it can be read by a wide audience. The Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) publishes this summary without attributing the name(s) of the applicant(s). This way, the use of animal testing in the Netherlands is made transparent without violating intellectual property rights or privacy.

Will the Netherlands ever be free of animal testing?

The current Dutch government’s ambition, briefly summarised