13 / 11 / 2023
In the build-up to World Day for Laboratory Animals on April 24th, we’d like to discuss the animals used in research and why the 3Rs are so important for animal welfare.
What is World Day for Laboratory Animals?
World Day for Laboratory Animals was first created in 1979, and in 2020 it grew into Lab Animal Week. The day was created to encourage a discussion around the use of animals in laboratories and remind us why the focus on replacements, including human-centred biomedical research methods, is so important. You can find out more about its history on the World Day for Laboratory Animals website.
Why is it important to discuss Laboratory Animals?
In 2020 alone, 2.88 million scientific procedures involving live animals were carried out in the UK.
At FRAME, we strongly believe in the importance of transparency and education. By having open discussions on the use of animals in science, we can better understand why they are being used, explore alternatives, and, where laboratory animals are deemed necessary, ensure their welfare is protected wherever possible.
This need for transparency is also why we have concerns about Article 24 of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act which prevents the sharing of licensing assessments, inspector visit reports, and review papers making it harder to identify if procedures are duplicates, or scientifically necessary.
Which animals are used in scientific research?
There are some animals that have become synonymous with use in scientific testing. In many cases, they’ve become part of our everyday language. Have you ever offered to be someone’s guinea pig when trying something new? But there are also many animals people are surprised to learn are used in research.
In 2020, the UK statistics for animal use in research showed:
- Mice were used in 71.5% of procedures
- Fish were used in 13% of procedures
- Rats were used in 7.35% of procedures
- Other animals such as dogs, cats, and primates were responsible for the remaining 8.15%
Animals are used in research for many reasons. Some animals like mice are used because they breed quickly and are relatively inexpensive to keep. Whereas animals like primates are used because they’re seen as being very close in physiology to humans. Although, as Dr Andrew Bennett shares in his article on the yin and yang of genome editing “the differences between humans and monkeys are significant when we get to the level of disease models and response to drugs.”
How does World Day for Laboratory Animals relate to the 3Rs?
The 3Rs stands for Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement and has been used by animal welfare advocates since the late 1950s. The 3Rs champions replacing animal methods with alternative methods. Where alternatives don’t yet exist, it focuses on reducing the number of animals used, and refining the process to minimise suffering and unnecessary repeats of experiments.
World Day for Laboratory Animals gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the fact that animals used in research are not solely resources for our use. Whilst they are still currently viewed as a tool to assess safety or answer research questions, as sentient creatures we have a responsibility to ensure this is always taken into account and acknowledged during discussions about animals in science.
While we champion Replacement as the focus, there are, unfortunately, many areas where alternative non-animal approaches do not yet exist. This is why it’s so important to protect the welfare of animals who are in laboratory settings while alternatives are developed and why FRAME supports the 3Rs as a whole.
There is a long journey ahead to completely remove animals from research, it will require progress from both the scientific and political world. In fact, according to The Alliance for Human Science, the UK government allocates less than 1% of its biomedical funding to New Approach Methodologies. This needs to change.
That is why FRAME focuses on education, on a public and regulatory level, and funding alternatives. Together, we can work to continue to create better science for humans and animals.
You can help create a world where human-focused research is the norm.
Our mission is to create a world where human-centred science is considered best practice. Together, we can improve the lives of humans and animals. Your donation enable us to continue vital work funding innovative research, supporting young researchers, and educating on animal testing issues.