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Being kind to animals

Science may have benefited from live animal testing over the years, but there are better, safer and less harmful ways to undertake research that would alleviate their suffering.

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Animal testing has played an important part in scientific advancement over the last century or so. However, many authorities question the ethical implications of animal laboratory tests and their reliability, considering the often unnecessary suffering involved for the animals. In the context of pharmaceutical research and development, the EU-funded Start-Up project is exploring issues related to the 3Rs of animal testing: reduce, replace, refine. The three topics were analysed in three expert meetings and open workshops with industry, academia and regulatory authorities. Among other things the workshops and meetings concluded that while animal experiments may still be needed, live testing (in vivo) and laboratory research (in vitro) should support each other. Alternatives must be explored, and more emphasis should be put on in-vitro testing. The project highlighted the need to deal with embryo toxicity (embryo poisoning), teratogenicity (abnormal development) and carcinogenicity (cancer-causing issues) in animals. Data sharing and reporting of negative results would also reduce replication of tests and minimise duplication of results in live testing. In parallel, data quality control, protocol standardisation and protection of intellectual property should be adopted by establishing a non-biased pan European entity. Start-Up also addressed lab animal husbandry and best practice for lab animal keeping. Better training of personnel and positive animal welfare were emphasised, while central breeding with strict quality controls were stressed for primates and transgenic animals. In addition, the project recommended the use of combined non-invasive (molecular) imaging techniques that allow diagnosis and long-term monitoring of treatment and offer in vitro innovation. The need for proper and tested vaccines for animals was also emphasised - Start-Up called for the setting up of national animal welfare and ethics committees to address this. Communication across sectors and with participation of regulatory authorities should be enhanced to address these issues, while animal welfare in the different Member States should be harmonised.

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