Until recently, many scientists were convinced that animal welfare and high-quality animal research were not compatible. Animal welfare was considered a nuisance that should be circumvented if possible, so scientists put in as little effort as possible. Fortunately, animal welfare experts refused to stop pushing the scientific community to pay attention to improvements in this field and convinced scientists of the advantages of a viable animal welfare plan.
Today, animal research without proper animal welfare is unimaginable, even unlawful, in most countries, and a robust animal welfare program is viewed as a chance to perform better research. In the United States, animal research must be approved by the internal IACUC committee; in the European Union (EU), however, the member state’s authorities must approve such projects, making the ethical approval process independent of the research institution.
Beyond these approving authorities, the use of independent associations like AAALAC (worldwide) and FELASA (in the EU) is becoming more and more popular, as it demonstrates the research institute’s devotion to animal welfare laws and guidelines. Internal quality assurance systems, including the use of standard operation procedures (SOPs) and in-depth training of all employees involved in animal housing and experimental procedures, further foster an enthusiastic commitment to animal welfare.
What Convinced Researchers to Change Their Attitude Towards Animal Welfare?
The 3Rs by Russell and Burch
Today’s animal welfare programs and accreditations are based on the 3Rs by Russell and Burch: Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. While the replacement of animal experiments is still in its infancy due to a lack of reliable alternative test systems, scientists are strongly pursuing the path of refinement. By refining animal housing, treatment, and in vivo testing, scientists can greatly increase the reproducibility of studies. Another factor that powerfully influences the reproducibility of data is the detailed planning of experiments ahead of time, ensuring that unexpected events during the study are kept to a minimum.
By increasing refinement, and thus reproducibility, the 3rd R is quickly fulfilled. Decreasing study variables can often allow for the reduction of group sizes. In an individual study, however, reduction may require larger group sizes to achieve statistically significant differences; this prevents unnecessary study repeats and the use of even more animals.
The PREPARE and ARRIVE Guidelines
Not long ago, the PREPARE and ARRIVE guidelines were published to improve the study of animals and the reporting of research using animals. The PREPARE guidelines provide a broad overview of topics that need to be considered before the start of a study, like the formulation of the study, dialogue between scientists and the animal facility, and quality control of the study stages, while the ARRIVE guidelines offer detailed information about variables that need to be reported so that other research groups can easily replicate described animal experiments. The ARRIVE guidelines are not only good support for the reporting of animal experiments, but also they’re useful for proper planning because they remind the research team of variables that might influence a study’s results.
Animal welfare makes clinical research easier by increasing the translational value of preclinical studies. As the industry recognizes and values this advantage, research institutes should further improve their preclinical animal research studies by adhering to the PREPARE and ARRIVE guidelines and striving for the 3Rs. This will help enable faster drug development and a higher translatability of preclinical studies.
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