Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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  • “Why is animal research necessary?”

Animal research makes it possible to study effects of treatments, interventions or diseases on a whole systems level, in which biological samples can be taken to understand its molecular underpinnings. In addition, animal research also generates the fundamental knowledge which is then used in human research. Without animal research, we wouldn’t have the large variety of medicine, vaccines, surgical treatments, used in both human and veterinary medicine, that we have in the present day.

  • “Are there alternatives to animal research?”

In general, this depends on the type of research and the research question. Among alternatives to animal research are organoids, organs on a chip, or computer simulations, which are possible thanks to animal research. However, while these alternatives are valuable in studying a certain part of a biological process, it is not capable of answering complex biomedical questions because organs interact with other body systems and the environment. Furthermore, neurobehavioural research requires an intact individual in order to study both the behavioural outcomes as the underlying biological processes. Because we cannot perform such tests on humans due to its invasiveness, and also not in vitro or in silico, the use of an animal model is warranted.

  • “Can we extrapolate results from animal research to the human condition?”

Translation depends on the chosen animal models and readouts, as well as the biological process that is being investigated. Through comparing  animal and human data, the translational value of the animal model can be determined. This will be facilitated by the use of techniques that can be used in animals and humans alike, such as non-invasive neuroimaging, or specific behavioural tests. When investigating biological processes that are evolutionarily conserved it will be more likely that translation is possible.

  • Why do we need animal research if it doesn’t (always) translate to the human condition?

While it is true that translation from animal to human isn’t always as straightforward, animal research is still capable of narrowing down what needs to be, and can be, tested in humans. Without animal research, many more clinical trials in humans are required that would fail, which is in itself unethical. Such a failure in a human clinical trials, in a best case scenario, would cost valuable time, money and resources. In other scenarios, it could also lead to severely adverse reactions in healthy humans. Having animal research as a prior step hence also serves as a safety precaution to reduce the incidence of severe or lethal adverse side effects in human clinical trials.

  • “How are animals obtained for research”

Household pets are not stolen and sold to research facilities as the animals used in research can only be obtained via certified breeders. It is even illegal for research institutes to obtain animals from breeding facilities without the proper licenses. 96% of the animals used in research are bred in certified farms for this specific purpose. The remainder 4% are animals that are either captured in the wild for study, or studied in their natural habitat. Read more about the rules and numbers in The Netherlands on the SID website (in Dutch).

  • “what are the rules regarding animal welfare?”

Researchers, technicians and animal care staff try their best to minimise pain and discomfort of the animals they have under their care. The experiments are designed along international ethical guidelines (the 3Rs) to ensure that the least amount of animals are used (reduction) and the elected procedures cause the least discomfort (refinement). In addition, researchers are required to have the correct license and training before they are allowed to work with animals and they are closely supervised by the local Animal Welfare Body and the national NVWA (Nederlandse Voedsel - en Waren Authoriteit).

  • “How many laboratory animals are used annually in the Netherlands and is this number increasing or decreasing?”

There actually has been a reduction in animal research in the Netherlands. The NVWA reports that in 2018, 448399 experiments using animals were performed, which was a 15.5% reduction compared to the year before (530568).

  • “Do researchers not care about the animals?”

Researchers who are involved in animal work care for the wellbeing and welfare of their animals. Good science starts with good practice, which includes treating animals respectfully, ensuring they do not experience any unnecessary stress or discomfort which can confound the research results.