RESEARCH CONDITIONS. Refinement of animal experiments is one of the three R’s on which animal studies in Sweden and the EU should be based. It is an area that has been developed a great deal in recent years. From having mainly been about cleanliness and pathogen-free environments, the focus is now on refining the experiments and stimulating normal animal development. Animal welfare is increasing while also better research results are achieved.
“Today we know that enriching the environment of animals and refining how animals are handled actually means that research results are more reliable,” according to Katarina Cvek, coordinator at the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala. She held a lecture during an online workshop with researchers and staff from the University of Gothenburg and AstraZeneca.
However, as recently as in the 70s and 80s, refinement was not considered an issue. The basic thought was that if the animals grew normally and appeared normal, everything was fine. It was believed that refinement could interfere negatively with experiments.
A changed relationship
“A lot has happened since then. Animal testing departments in Sweden are completely different today from what they were like 30 years ago, and attitudes among researchers have changed. Care, careful handling and a stimulating environment for animals are now an obvious part of all experimental animal-based research. Now we create a relationship between animals and their caregivers, and we accustom the animals to different situations to reduce their stress levels.”
But much still needs be done. Cages, and the environment within them, must be sufficiently complex to ensure natural and normal animal development. We must continue improving and refining pain relief and, not least, working on the other two ‘R’s, which means replacing animal testing where possible (Replace) and reducing the number of animals used in experiments (Reduce).
“We need to continue these improvements, and to use new technology. For example, AI is now being used to detect small signs of pain in fish.”
The seminar is part of long-term efforts
The online seminar on Refinement was organized by the Swedish 3R Center in collaboration with the University of Gothenburg and AstraZeneca. It is part of The Animal Welfare Bodies work that includes training researchers, animal technicians and other staff groups in the 3Rs.
The keynote speaker was Katarina Cvek, coordinator at SLU and member of the Swedish National Committee for the Protection of Animals used for Scientific Purposes. The second part of the seminar included an online workshop, where staff from RISE introduced how they handle and train rats and mice before studies.
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BY: CHARBEL SADER