2017 Annual Report on
Animal Experiments and 3Rs methods
by Utrecht University and
University Medical Center Utrecht
This 2017 Annual Report on Animal Experiments by Utrecht University and the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht) provides some general information about the use of laboratory animals and experimentation on animals by the two institutions. This publication was prompted in part by the Animal Experiment Transparency Code of the Netherlands.
This annual report is only one of the ways in which we are promoting openness about experiments on animals. For example, there is the extremely informative website of the Animal Welfare Body Utrecht, as well as the websites of the Animal Ethics Committee Utrecht (DEC Utrecht) and the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences.
Responsibility in animal experiments
Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht do mainly bio-medical and veterinary research. The aims of this research include increasing safety and improving the quality of life for both people and animals, primarily by preventing or curing illnesses. Many experiments can be done using cultured cells, computer simulations or volunteers. In some cases it is necessary to conduct experiments on animals.
Under Dutch law, experiments may only be done on animals if no other way is possible. If it is necessary to use animals, as few of them must be used as possible, and they must undergo minimal discomfort. Like humans, animals (in particular vertebrates) experience welfare, and thus they are aware when their welfare is affected. In addition, animals have intrinsic value as individuals, which means that we must respect their physical integrity and their right to life. Researchers aiming to design an experiment using animals must always check if any ‘3R’ methods (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) can be applied in the experiment, and must describe these methods when applying for a licence.
Internal supervision and advice
Since 2015, when the 2014 revisions to the Animal Experiments Act (Wet op de dierproeven) took effect, any organisation working with laboratory animals must have an Animal Welfare Body. The Animal Welfare Body Utrecht fulfils this role for the UMC Utrecht, Utrecht University and other bodies. Along with the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences, the AWB Utrecht makes recommendations about animal welfare and implementing the 3Rs to staff involved in experiments on animals, and evaluates licence applications for research projects and the concrete work protocols they involve.
Issuing the licence
The DEC Utrecht weighs the ethical value of the research or education against the value of the laboratory animals’ welfare. It advises the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD), who issues licences to conduct experiments on animals. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Authority (NVWA) monitors experiments on behalf of the national government. The Netherlands National Committee for the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (NCad) advises the Minister of Economic Affairs, the CCD and Animal Welfare Bodies on experiments on animals and the potential of 3R methods, draws up guidelines and codes of practice, and stimulates knowledge exchange.
In many cases, much of the research in a study can be done without using animals, but the results must ultimately be verified in a live animal so that unanticipated effects on living organisms can be studied. In addition, laboratory animals are needed for education in both human and veterinary medicine (such as for students practicing their skills). Here as well, many non-animal models are already in use, for example using bicycle tires as imitation skin in teaching suturing techniques.
In order to use as few animals as possible, the 3Rs are used by both institutions in all phases of the study: these are Replacement (of animal experiments with animal free experiments), Reduction (of the number of laboratory animals), and Refinement (to minimise discomfort). The Utrecht University’s 3Rs-Centre ULS and other bodies encourage the use of these methods. In 2017 the joint 3Rs Stimulus Fund was proceeded, and 6 applications were granted. The close collaboration with the laboratory animal rights organisation Proefdiervrij on the Animal donor codicil was continued. Three project proposals with a similar aim – to promote optimal use of animal tissue – are pending while applicants and evaluation committee investigate options for combining them in one project.
PREPARE and ARRIVE
Two guidelines were promoted internally: PREPARE (Planning Research and Experimental Procedures on Animals: Recommendations for Excellence) provides an excellent preparation for writing a work protocol of an animal experiment. ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments) aims to design, execute and publish animal experimental research in such a way that results are interpretable and repeatable, which also stimulates 3Rs.
Launch of the FCS-free Database
The 3Rs Centre Utrecht Life Sciences, together with Animal Free Research UK, developed a database for the exchange of knowledge about growth stimulating serums for cell cultures, especially serums that serve as an alternative to the often used fetal calf serum. Fetal calf serum is extracted from blood that is tapped from the heart of an unborn calf without anesthetic. Researchers who have developed alternatives to this serum and those who are looking for these alternatives can exchange knowledge, so that calf serum will be needed less in the future. fcs-free.org
In interpreting the year’s figures, it is important not to confuse the number of animal experiments conducted with the number of laboratory animals used. Although any experiment on animals indeed requires a laboratory animal, if that same animal is used in a second experiment, there are two animal experiments but still one laboratory animal.
Organisations conducting experiments on animals must report annually to the government how many animal experiments they have done and how many laboratory animals were used for them. Not every intervention that uses animals fits the definition of an experiment on animals. For example, teaching students how to handle, restrain or bandage animals is not considered an experiment. Legally an animal experiment is one in which the discomfort level is that of an injection or higher.
Number of animal experiments per faculty or institute
The total number of animal experiments carried out in 2017 in Utrecht (20,478) is lower than the previous year (21,053). At Utrecht University the number decreased by 1,390 and at the UMC Utrecht it increased by 815. Both are relatively small changes, that are difficult to interpret.
Multiple uses of laboratory animals occurred much more often at Utrecht University (3,001) than at the UMC Utrecht (616). This is because of the more frequent use of the same animals for education, especially in Veterinary Medicine. Partly because of this, but also because of such things as research on poultry health and illness, this faculty does the most animal experiments. The Faculty of Science (which includes the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biology departments) conducts considerably fewer animal experiments.
Purpose of the animal experiments
Animal experiments at Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht were done for three main purposes: 49.3% were for fundamental research, 29.2% for translational and applied research and 20.3% for education. At Utrecht University, over half had an educational purpose. Fundamental research is research into processes without a direct application being envisaged, such as the process of cell division. Applied research is focused on an application, such as a medical therapy. Translational research connects fundamental research with an application, for example, research on the question of what substances affect the cell division studied in fundamental research. The division is a good reflection of the core activities of both institutes. Conducting fundamental research is a typical core activity of an academic institute.
More than half of the laboratory animals used (55.6%) were mice. Besides mice, rats were also used (19%), followed by chickens (12%), zebra fish (4.5%), and cattle (2.8%). In particular, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, cats, horses, sheep cattle, chickens and pigeons were re-used a number of times, mostly for educational purposes.
|Number of animals re-used||Number of animals killed||Total number of
|Genetically modified mice||93||0||1,090||2,945||1,090||2,945|
|Genetically modified rats||0||0||40||67||40||67|
|Dogs with naturally occurring defect||0||0||3||0||5||0|
|Horses, donkeys & cross-breeds||0||0||40||0||103||0|
|Genetically modified zebrafish||0||0||91||0||91||0|
Numbers of animals killed without being used
Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht do the utmost to reduce the number of animals that are killed without being used for either research or education, and again managed to realize the considerable reduction of nearly a third (-29.7%). The most occurring reasons for non-use are a genetic makeup or sex that doesn’t fit the requirements of the current experiments. Several breeding lines that were no longer needed due to shifts in research focus were stopped.
|Killed in stock||Killed after being |
used for breeding
|Horses, donkeys & cross-breeds||2||0||0||0||2||0|
|Transgenic zebra fish||998||0||0||0||998||0|
Degree of discomfort
Laboratory animals used in practical education usually experience little discomfort. This partly explains why the majority of animal experiments at Utrecht University are associated with mild discomfort (79.8%). In research at the UMC Utrecht, there was relatively more surgery performed on animals, which explains the higher levels of discomfort there. The distribution of the number of animal experiments over the various categories of discomfort was better than in 2016: more animals experienced less discomfort.