Alternative methods to animal research – Universidad Rey Juan Carlos – Cátedra animales y sociedad

Alternative methods to science experiments animal research.

Have you ever been vaccinated? Have you followed the advice on avoiding the use of certain toxic products? Have you seen the need for a CT scan (Computerized Assisted Tomography)? Maybe an electrocardiogram? Have you taken any medicines—any medications—in their lifetime? Have you needed to start treatments against diabetes, cancer, hepatitis, a cold…?

So do not hesitate: you have benefited from the knowledge generated from the use of animals in research. Like it or not.

No one can deny the benefits of research in any branch of science, in terms of progress and well-being, in terms of gaining hope and quality of life in the face of diseases. And no one wants to stop the scientific activity that achieves these achievements. But there are things about this scientific activity that hurt. And they also hurt us, the researchers.

Many of us who work in science do so out of a sense of wonder, of wonder, and this, in many cases, derives in a deep respect – and love – for what we investigate. However, the evolution of science has imposed on us a thankless and unpleasant job: using animals in research. In fact, a large part of us is unable to work directly with animals. On the other hand, animal research also entails great drawbacks, beyond the moral and ethical dilemmas, derived mainly from the differences regarding the anatomy, physiology, biokinetics and pharmacological and toxicological responses of model animals compared to humans to whom the drug or treatment is directed. When extrapolating information from laboratory animals to humans, species-specific differences should be taken into account. Also, some side effects that appear in humans may not be perceived in the animal or may not be detected due to too low a frequency of occurrence.

The driving force behind the use of alternative methods is also fuelled by economic factors, as the costs of implementing and maintaining animal facilities are high, animal experiments are expensive and time-consuming and often difficult to standardize.

That is why, for years, scientists have done what they do best to reduce and even avoid the use of animals in laboratories: research, but in this case investigate alternative methods to the use of animals, which are usually less complex, more integrative, cheaper and easier to standardize methods. That is, the benefits are not only bioethical, but also scientific, since this improvement in the conditions in which experiments are designed and carried out reduces the number of factors that can alter the results.

This article is not meant to be a technical article, written for scientists. On the contrary, it aims to bring to the general public an overview of the work that is being done in this regard from the scientific community and with the support of different sectors, from animal protection associations to national and international agencies. It is not an exhaustive study, but it is complete enough for readers to be aware that on the front line of the battle against the use of animals in research, also and mainly, we are scientists, and that from us will start the solutions that will prevent the use of animals in science, without undermining its effectiveness and probably improving it.Although this future looks even more distant than we would like. But we will continue to work towards it.

The three Rs: Replace, Reduce and Refine.

During the last decades, much progress has been made in animal welfare in research, establishing different and detailed regulations and protocols. These regulations state that all public administrations must encourage research into alternative approaches and disseminate the results of these investigations to promote and develop these new approaches.

At this point it is necessary to point out that for the purposes of protection of laboratory animals, the regulations consider subjects of the right to be protected those animals that present pain perception systems. That is, with a nervous system developed enough to suffer, both from a physical point of view and from a psychological point of view. So, throughout this article, when we refer to “laboratory animal” we will be referring to animals with pain perception systems.

The current European regulations have as an absolute priority the promotion and implementation of alternative approaches to traditional methods of using animals. This legal development reflects the growing concern of European citizens and researchers about moral and ethical responsibility and respect for life, pain or suffering towards animals used for these purposes.

Directive 2010/63/EU, adopted in 2010, is a directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. 14 of the 56 recitals addressed in it address the principle of the three R’s.

And what is this principle about?

60 years ago, in 1959, zoologist William Russell and microbiologist Rex Burch published the book “The Principles of Humanitarian Experimental Ethics.” In this book they summarized Charles Hume’s original proposal to apply three guiding principles to establish accepted standards for animal research: Replacement (generating and encouraging methods that avoid or help replace the use of animals), Reduction (methods to reduce the number of animals used in experiments), and Refinement (methods to minimize any pain or distress and improve animal welfare).

Paragraph 10 of Directive 2010/63/EU explicitly recognises that the ultimate goal is the total replacement of animals used for scientific and educational purposes by systems that do not involve the use of live animals. The replacement R applied to its end. This objective will not be achievable in the short or medium term, nor will it be simple or cheap to achieve, but we can achieve it through the gradual establishment of replacement, reduction and refinement systems.

In Spain, this directive has materialized in Royal Decree 53/2013, which establishes the basic rules applicable to the protection of animals used in experimentation and other scientific purposes, including teaching.

As a sign of the European Union’s active listening to its citizens, it should be noted that in 2015 the Commission identified different actions to accelerate the development and adoption of animal-free approaches in response to the “Stop Vivisection” initiative. Alternative approaches.

The development of alternative approaches and methods has reduced the number of animals used in experimentation by up to 80%. They also have other advantages: technical, by better representing certain mechanisms in humans; practical, being faster and more reproducible; and economic, by reducing implementation and maintenance costs.

The main alternative approaches are as follows:Avoid unnecessary experiments in vivo and in vitro, through a range of possibilities: applying standardized protocols, improving the design of the experiment, using information extracted from previous studies, using alternative models in teaching, etc.Use computational models (in silico) for prediction and data integration.Use organisms such as bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, plants or invertebrates in a way that replaces laboratory animals in research.Use embryos in the early stages of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.Use in vitro methods: organs, cultures, acellular systems.Use Integrated Texting Strategies (ITS).Animal studies applying the principle of the three Rs: Replace, Reduce and Refine.Human studies.