Less animal testing benefits well-being
A great deal of attention is given to alternatives to animal testing, both in politics and in the health and life sciences sector. A new way of carrying out medical research projects could reduce animal testing while benefitting health and well-being.
This project presents a new approach, which is to develop ‘translational strategies’, or ways to convert fundamental research into concrete diagnosis and treatment practises. To develop the optimum research strategy, the whole of the research chain (including people and animals) is analysed, while focusing on the patient’s health.
Although animal testing has led to a better understanding of diseases and their treatment in recent decades, its use remains controversial. Questions remain about the ethical acceptability of animal testing, the reliability of the research chain and the validity of the animal models used. These models make use of animals that are genetically manipulated to such an extent that they display the symptoms of human diseases. The assumption is made that research on these animals can produce results that are also applicable to humans.
This project examines a new approach, which is the development of transitional strategies that contribute to both the effectiveness and the ethical and social acceptability of health innovations, including animal testing. Based on the two case studies – rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis – an interdisciplinary research team is exploring the benefits of employing good transitional strategies. The aim is to:
- obtain a better understanding of the institutional and ethical issues that mean that animal testing innovations are not implemented or do not benefit healthcare;
- take concrete steps to optimise animal and human research in the two case studies;
- establish foundations and best practises for developing translational strategies.
The research is being conducted in close consultation with experts and stakeholders in the animal and medical research fields. The results will be used in teaching, for example, and to contribute to standard research and ethical review protocols.
Ethics and uncertainty
Animal testing always raises ethical questions. The ethical part of this project focuses on two questions:
- What are the ethical implications of the fact that animal testing does not always produce the desired benefits for human health? Pronouncements made regarding the necessity or not of animal testing may seem to be based purely on fact, but are in fact partly based on ideas relating to the value of animals and human health, and what constitutes good science. This requires an analysis of these values.
- How to deal with uncertainty in an ethically-responsible manner? The ethical assessment of whether animals may be used in research always take place beforehand. However, it is still uncertain at this stage what exactly the animals will be exposed to and what the chance is that the research will be successful. This uncertainty can be reduced using a better experimental design, but can never be removed completely.
In the first year of the project, the researchers began two systematic literature reviews of the current situation regarding cystic fibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis:
- For cystic fibrosis, the researchers are producing an overview of the available animal models. This overview can help researchers who are planning to conduct animal tests to select the most appropriate animal model. The researchers are currently working hard on summarising the 844 papers that describe an animal model.
- For rheumatoid arthritis, the researchers are examining whether the experimental setup of pre-clinical animal studies is comparable with clinical research involving patients. The focus is on whether the health improvements found in animal studies can be related to the improvements in human rheumatism patients. The researchers are currently working hard to summarise and compare the information contained in almost 700 scientific articles. About 25% of these articles concern laboratory animals and 75% human studies.
These two studies also show that systematic literature studies can help reduce the amount of animal testing, or make it more effective.
animal testing, animal welfare, health, well-being, well-being, translational research, translational medicine, animal models, rheumatism, cystic fibrosis, translational strategyOfficial project title: