For the first time, BfR scientists at the German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R) have demonstrated that a systematic analysis of the non-technical project summaries in "AnimalTestInfo" can precisely identify fields of research in need for the development of new alternative methods. These include areas of biomedical research with a consistently large number of planned projects using animals. "This work shows the additional scientific value that can be drawn from the non-technical summaries of authorised animal experiments," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "What we are aiming at in the future is an EU-wide solution for publishing non-technical summaries based on the AnimalTestInfo database. This will not only enhance the transparency of animal experiments, it will also promote the further development of alternative methods".
The results of the BfR study have been published as an open access article in the journal PLOS Biology.
The German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals scientifically exemplary assessed the comprehensible summaries (so-called non-technical project summaries or NTSs) submitted to the "AnimalTestInfo" database covering over 5,000 planned projects involving a total of more than 4.8 million authorised animals. The objective was to obtain detailed knowledge of the purpose and benefits of animal tests in order to map out future options for more animal welfare in a precise and timely manner. The results of the pilot study have shown that "AnimalTestInfo" provides scientists, but also research funders and policymakers, with the opportunity to gather extensive and scientifically based information on animal tests.
The systematic analysis of the non-technical project summaries identified specific research fields in need for development of new alternative methods, with a consistently large number of planned projects involving animals, such as the investigation and treatment of human diseases like gastrointestinal cancer and hypertension.
The EU Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (Directive 2010/63/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 September 2010) stipulates that citizens of the respective member state have to be provided with transparent information on animal testing in the form of non-technical project summaries. Already in 2014, Germany established the web-based "AnimalTestInfo" database at the BfR to guarantee the general public an easy online access to the non-technical project summaries.
In their pilot study, BfR scientists at the German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals assigned non-technical summaries with the corresponding ICD-10 codes according to the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD) of the World Health Organisation. The results show that the purpose of roughly 80% of the planned projects addresses investigation of human diseases. These centre around widespread diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and diseases of the nervous system. By using the ICD-10 classification a better overview of the benefits of animal experiments is achieved, for example, animal tests in cancer research can be differentiated by the various organ systems. This information allows for the identification of specific research fields for new alternative methods in line with the 3R principle (replace, reduce, refine). Application of the 3R principle, i.e. to replace animal tests with alternative methods wherever possible, to reduce the number of animals to the absolute minimum and to refine experiments to increase the wellbeing of the laboratory animals, is of essential importance. Research areas with consistently large numbers of animal experiments, such as the areas of hypertension and degenerative diseases of the brain, can benefit mostly from 3R measures.
The study also shows that with the NTSs scientists in Europe, as well as the research funders and policymakers in general, have for the first time a mine of information on animal experiments that enables them to exploit fields of action for more directed animal protection in future. An EU-wide database would not only increase transparency with regard to animal experiments, it would also improve the development of alternative methods in the EU.
The BfR performs the tasks of the "German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R)" and coordinates all activities throughout the country with the goals of restricting animal tests to the absolutely essential minimum and guaranteeing test animals the best possible protection. In addition to this, the work of the centre is intended to stimulate research activities all over the world and promote scientific dialogue.