19 October 2016

Replacement, Reduction and Refinement: Danish researchers involved with animal experiments are well informed

According to a new study from IFRO, the majority of Danish researchers involved with animal experiments assess their knowledge of the so-called 3R's to be good. The 3R concept is an international initiative to ensure that as few experimental animals as possible are used in experiments, and to give the animals which have to be used the best possible conditions. The survey also shows that the researchers' actual knowledge is relatively high, but that they have a higher degree of knowledge of reduction and replacement than of the third R refinement.

"The mapping of researchers' actual experience with the implementation of the 3Rs showed that a large majority find that refinement and reduction play a significant role when they plan and carry out experiments with animals. Many respondents also indicated that they have developed new techniques to use fewer animals and to reduce the load on each animal in the experiments", says Professor Jesper Lassen, co-author of the report from the study.

The purpose of the survey, which was made by IFRO at the request of the Danish 3R-Centre, was to study the knowledge, attitudes and experiences of the 3R's among researchers involved with animal experiments. In addition, the aim was to map the researchers' expectations for Denmark's 3R-Centre, which was established in 2013 in a collaboration between the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, pharmaceutical companies and animal welfare organisations. A total of 293 researchers involved with animal experiments replied to the questionnaire, which was developed for the purpose.

The survey also showed that replacement – i.e. replacing animal testing with experiments not using live vertebrates – plays a role when trials are planned and designed; although it is less clear how this happens in practice.

“A large majority of the researchers who participated in the study think that implementing the 3R's  will not be detrimental to their work, just as many do not think that there are any obstacles for implementing the three principles. In spite of this, however, only a minority believes that complete replacement – that is to say completely avoiding animal testing – will be achieved in the future”, says Jesper Lassen.

When asked directly about the barriers for further implementation of the 3R', many respondents pointed to a lack of appropriate scientific or technological innovation as a significant factor. In addition, increased data sharing as well as further collaboration between research groups and companies were identified as the main requirements to be able to reduce the number of animals used for experiments. Similarly, scientific factors – such as greater availability of human tissues, more relevant cell cultures and more predictive computer models – were identified as the most important requirements for further replacement of actual animal experiments with other methods.

Denmark's 3R-Centre was fairly well-known among the researchers, and the majority believed that the centre plays an important role for researchers working with experiments in Denmark.

Overall, significant differences were found between the researchers, depending on whether they worked in the public sector or in private companies. The private sector researchers were more confident regarding their knowledge of the 3R’s, just as they also demonstrated a better factual understanding of the principles.

Jesper Lassen: “There is a significant difference between the two groups' attention to the 3R's. For example, privately employed researchers mainly consider the 3R's during their daily work with animals, whereas public researchers primarily consider the 3R's when they design projects and during the ethical review process in connection with applications for the approval of experiments.”

The survey results in the recommendation of a dual strategy for Denmark's 3R-Centre. Firstly, the 3R-Centre is recommended to focus its attention on dissemination information about the 3R's to scientists in the public sector, where it would be useful to increase knowledge and the understanding as how to make the 3R's operational in their daily work. Secondly, it is also important to continue the work on networking between the different research groups by offering conferences/seminars (e.g. the annual symposia), as was requested by scientists in the private sector.