Laboratory animal research
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.
Legislation and regulation to animal testing
You do not just simply do animal testing; there are strict laws and regulations. In the European Union, the use of animals for scientific research is only permitted if there is no other option. Moreover, there is a European directive with rules to protect laboratory animals in Europe, which all member states of the European Union must incorporate into their national laws 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. 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. Multiple parties are involved in the process of applying for this license, so that all considerations are weighed carefully.
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 researcher must explain why the research cannot be conducted using an alternative method (replacement) or fewer animals (reduction), as well as how the distress of the animals is minimized (refinement).
The Animal Welfare Body (IvD) helps the researcher with the license application. This application is submitted to the Animal Ethics Committee (DEC). The DEC assesses the application for ethical and scientific aspects and provides advice to the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD): the governmental organisation that has exclusive authorisation to grant licenses for animal testing in the Netherlands. The CCD then grants the license or rejects the application. After approval of the test application, the experiments are supervised and monitored by the IvD to ensure compliance with the approved procedures and specifications.
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.
- 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.
Researchers on animal testing
No medicines without animal testing
"All the medications we currently know would not have existed without animal testing. For various reasons, we cannot do without animal testing for the time being. However, my team and I are also working diligently on developing alternatives. Because naturally, I prefer testing something on human cells."
Less stress for animals in the new building
"The mice have a hiding spot in their cage, the sheep walk around in the meadow as much as possible, and rabbits live in a group setting in an office-like space. Improved conditions in the new building will further enhance the quality of life for animals and contribute to the quality of research."
Parkinson’s patients stop shaking
"Our non-human research is always aimed at better understanding diseases and improving treatments, from Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to sensory disorders or mental illnesses. Without animal subjects, for example, deep brain stimulation as a treatment for Parksinson's would not exist."
Wake up, immune system!
"Cancer can grow in humans or animals when the immune system no longer recognizes cell mutations. We essentially give the immune system a good wake-up call: start doing what you're meant to do. This approach initially worked in mice and later in a small group of patients. Now, a study is being conducted with a larger group of patients."
Searching for an Alzheimer's pill
"Finding a new medication that prevents people with mild cognitive impairments from actually developing Alzheimer's disease is the scientific dream of Jos Prickaerts. Unfortunately, animal testing is still necessary to get closer to a pill for Alzheimer's. As scientists, we need to communicate more with the public and policymakers about this."
Animal research at UM
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.
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).
UM scientists are also working on alternatives to animal testing. 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.
Source: Zo Doende, 2021, NVWA
Good alternative methods have already been developed that complement animal testing. However, in many fields, alternative methods and animal testing will need to coexist for many years in order to continue making progress in (bio)medicine. Particularly in biomedical issues where the immune system or nervous system play a significant role, the complexity of the living organism cannot yet be simulated by alternative methods. Organisations from the government, science, industry and civil society together look for methods that replace, reduce and refine animal testing. Over the past decades, the number of animals used for experimentation has significantly decreased, and the living conditions for animals have been greatly improved (see also the interview with Andreas Teubner, Head of CPV).
Every application for animal experiments submitted to the Central Committee for Animal Experiments (CCD) must justify how they comply with these 3r’s.
More and more animal testing is being replaced by alternative methods, for example by computer simulations that mimic biological processes in the human body. Or through research in which human tissue can be used.
Reduction is about using as few animals as possible in every experiment. For example, by using data from previous studies. Additionally, new research methods yield more data from fewer animals. At the UM, a method has been developed to double the number of heart cells that can be obtained from a test subject (rat) through a technical improvement in perfusion. As a result, the number of animals used in experiments can be reduced by half.
Refinement involves minimizing the discomfort that animals may experience before, during, or after the research. The animals are provided with pain relief medication, and their living conditions are adjusted to allow them to exhibit natural behaviors as much as possible. When feasible, the experimental design ensures that the laboratory animals are kept together and provided with companionship.
Additional resources in English and Dutch
- The Basel Declaration
- Understanding Animal Research
- Speaking of Research
- Stichting Informatie Dierproeven
- Brochure: dierproeven zo doen ze dat
- Nationaal Comité advies dierproevenbeleid (NCad)
- Centrale Commissie Dierproeven (CCD)
- Jaaroverzicht NVWA over dierproeven en proefdieren
- Rijksoverheid ‘Waarom dierproeven nodig zijn’
- Infopunt proefdierenonderzoek (België)
Head central animal Facility