‘The use of laboratory animals can be greatly reduced’

Auteur: Harmen Kamminga | Publicatiedatum:

Coenraad Hendriksen, Emeritus Professor of alternatives for animal experiments, argues that much of the research carried out in the life sciences is quite possible without using animal models. Flip Klatter, director of the UMCG Central Animal Facility, does not fully agree.

Coenraad Hendriksen:

‘At present, some 15 % of all laboratory animals are used to test the safety of vaccines. A substantial reduction is certainly feasible in such regulatory pharmaceutical research. Over the past 20 years life scientists have developed alternative testing methods which are often better than animal tests. The latter are often outdated – they were developed before the 1970s. The use of laboratory animals can certainly be reduced by using today’s technology. For instance tests on cell cultures, such as stem cells and organoids, and various ‘…omics’ and analytic techniques.

‘A substantial reduction is possible’

I anticipate that scientists will prefer to use those models in their research that best help them to answer their questions. I am therefore convinced that obsolete animal models will gradually be used far less. The greatest difficulty in regulatory research is to convince the regulators of the equivalency of the alternatives. That’s where the most time will be spent. We live in an extremely risk-avoiding society and – rightly or wrongly – the regulators have built up faith in tests with animal models over the years. It will cost a great deal of time to get them enthusiastic about alternatives. And yet I still expect that the use of laboratory animals for this type of research will be reduced to almost nil in 20 years’ time. I do, however, feel that as scientists we have the moral duty to accelerate this process where possible.’ 

Flip Klatter:

‘I feel that a proposition such as this implies that today’s researchers are using an unnecessarily large number of laboratory animals, or that research involving laboratory animals is carried out in a slipshod fashion. This is not the case. All people working with laboratory animals today do so very conscientiously, and where possible aim to reduce such use, find alternatives and refine techniques.

All laboratory animal centres make use of animal welfare agencies – teams of different experts who check project proposals in advance and also constantly evaluate ongoing projects. This works. I expect to see the same effect when the database for exchanging knowledge on alternatives for animal experiments is ready and frequently consulted.

‘Everyone takes the use of animals seriously’

I also expect a great deal regarding the development of alternatives, as we have seen with organs-on-a-chip. And I also think that more collaboration between the breeding coordinators at the different centres can result in a reduction in the total breeding surplus. Moreover, universities and medical centres and companies invest in technology – such as imaging equipment – that help reduce the use of animals. Also, today’s increasing level of transparency means that society is better able to discuss laboratory animal issues and enables regulators to make better choices.

The effects may be minor in the short term, but when accumulated they lead to a substantial reduction in the number of lab animals required in the longer term. On the other hand, I suspect that new technology, such as transgenesis through CRISPR-Cas, will give rise to the development of new animal models. However, I do expect that on balance we will need fewer laboratory animals in the future.’ 

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