Vision on the Use of Test Animals
The medical scientific mission of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) entails that, to fulfill its social responsibility, it conducts innovative research aimed at preventing, predicting and curing diseases, among other things.
In doing so, the VUB strives for an optimal research environment by providing the necessary support for researchers and by enabling and requiring continuous training. Moreover, every VUB researcher signs the "charter of the good researcher" that includes clear guidelines on correct scientific-ethical behaviour as well as the regulations on scientific integrity violations. All this means that research is carried out in a strictly regulated framework. When conducting scientific research at the VUB, not only legal obligations are examined, but also social-ethical considerations. Thus, every researcher must ask himself the question "What is the most appropriate model to answer my research question?" beforehand. Examples of appropriate models are a computer simulation, performing tests on cells and tissues of laboratory animals and/or humans (in vitro research) or performing experiments on laboratory animals (in vivo research). The VUB is strongly committed to the development of non-animal test methods through the expansion of the IC-3R Centre. The Innovation Centre for 3R Alternatives (IC-3Rs) was founded at the VUB on 25 September 2017. This platform aims to stimulate the development, visibility and use of alternative 3R methods (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) - and to strengthen the communication on this subject, building on the extensive expertise of the IVTD (In VitroToxicology and Dermato- Cosmetology) group. Furthermore stimulate the development of in vitro methods by building on the long-standing activities and expertise of the IVTD research group. Growth is possible thanks to the VUB Chair/legate Mireille Aerens for the development of non-animal test methods and the support of the Brussels Region (Minister Bernard Clerfayt). The focus is on giving opportunities to young researchers and innovative projects to conduct research in this field and thus broaden the basis for non-animal research. IC-3Rs aims to use fewer animals wherever scientifically possible and to increase the focus on integrating alternative non-animal methods into basic and applied research, the areas where most animals are used worldwide.
"Can we develop new medicines without animals today?" All experts clearly agree: today this is not yet possible, but we can carry out parts of the research without using animals among others by using sophisticated cultures of human stem cells...Should animal testing be necessary within a research project, those involved must adhere to the legal and ethical standards set out in (inter)national laws and regulations. These state, among other things, that any project which requires the use of laboratory animals must receive ethical approval from a legally recognised Experimental Ethics Committee (ECD) before it can begin.An important question which the Ethical Committee on Animal Experiments of the VUB always asks itself during the evaluation of a research project is: "What is the social and scientific added value of the expected results of the research and does this added value outweigh the discomfort the test animal might experience?".
If the research on animals has an important added value, we will always strive to apply the legal principles of the 3Rs as much as possible. On the one hand, this means that researchers always use the lowest possible animal species and keep the number of animals to a scientifically justified minimum. On the other hand, the animals must be housed in the best possible conditions and their welfare must be monitored by the researchers, the veterinarians experts and the members of the Animal Welfare Unit. Today, the "best science" is a well-considered combination of in vivo and in vitro methodology, and the follow-up of new developments is crucial so that non-animal techniques can be integrated as soon as they are well established and available. With the construction of a new VUB animalarium, considerable investments have been made in recent years that allow for further optimised housing and animal care. The 3Rs are further complemented by the VUB with the principles of "Commitment" and "Accountability". Every researcher has the obligation to follow training and education and every researcher has to give account to both official bodies and the general public. One of the ways in which the VUB is replacing or reducing the use of laboratory animals is by promoting the use of RE-Place among researchers. This database, supported by Animal Welfare Flanders and the Brussels Region, provides a reliable overview of "New Approach Methodologies (NAMs)", which reduce or even eliminate the need for laboratory animals. In addition, the tool can be used to identify experts and research centres where the techniques can be taught..
At the VUB, there are also several European research projects that endorse the 3Rs, such as Ontox, Twinalt, PARC...
Furthermore, the VUB signed the transparency agreement on animal testing in Belgium. The aim of this Agreement is to ensure that members of the Belgian public receive accurate and up-to-date information on animal testing:
- how such research is regulated in Belgium
- the role it plays in the overall process of scientific discovery, treatment development and safety testing
- the efforts made by researchers and staff to support animal care and welfare
- what is being done to reduce the use of animals and minimise their suffering.