2016 Annual Report
on Animal Experiments
by Utrecht University and
University Medical Center Utrecht
This 2016 Annual Report on Animal Experiments by Utrecht University and the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht) provides some general information about the use of laboratory animals and experimentation on animals by the two institutions. This publication was prompted in part by the Animal Experiment Transparency Code of the Netherlands.
This annual report is only one of the ways in which we are promoting openness about experiments on animals. For example, there is the extremely informative website of the Animal Welfare Body Utrecht, as well as the websites of the Animal Ethics Committee Utrecht (DEC Utrecht) and the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences.
Responsibility in animal experiments
Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht do mainly bio-medical and veterinary research. The aims of this research include increasing safety and improving the quality of life for both people and animals, primarily by preventing or curing illnesses. Many experiments can be done using cultured cells, computer simulations or volunteers. In some cases it is necessary to conduct experiments on animals.
Under Dutch law, experiments may only be done on animals if no other way is possible. If it is necessary to use animals, as few of them must be used as possible, and they must undergo minimal discomfort. Like humans, animals (in particular vertebrates) experience welfare, and thus they are aware when their welfare is affected. In addition, animals have intrinsic value as individuals, which means that we must respect their physical integrity and their right to life. Researchers aiming to design an experiment using animals must always check if any ‘3R’ methods (replacement, reduction, refining) can be applied in the experiment, and must describe these methods when applying for a licence.
Internal supervision and advice
Since 2015, when the 2014 revisions to the Animal Experiments Act (Wet op de dierproeven) took effect, any organisation working with laboratory animals must have an Animal Welfare Body. The Animal Welfare Body Utrecht fulfils this role for the UMC Utrecht, Utrecht University and other bodies. Along with the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences, the AWB Utrecht makes recommendations about animal welfare and implementing the 3Rs to staff involved in experiments on animals, and evaluates licence applications for research projects and the concrete work protocols they involve. In 2015 the AWB worked to bring the procedures within the two institutions into line with the revised law. In 2016 the AWB refined its quality assurance system.
Issuing the licence
The DEC Utrecht weighs the ethical value of the research or education against the value of the laboratory animals’ welfare. It advises the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD), who issues licences to conduct experiments on animals. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Authority (NVWA) monitors experiments on behalf of the national government. The Netherlands National Committee for the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (NCad) advises the Minister of Economic Affairs, the CCD and Animal Welfare Bodies on experiments on animals and the potential of 3R methods, draws up guidelines and codes of practice, and stimulates knowledge exchange.
In many cases, much of the research in a study can be done without using animals, but the results must ultimately be verified in a live animal so that unanticipated effects on living organisms can be studied. In addition, laboratory animals are needed for education in both human and veterinary medicine (such as for students practicing their skills). Here as well, many non-animal models are already in use, for example using bicycle tires as imitation skin in teaching suturing techniques.
In order to use as few animals as possible, the 3Rs are used by both institutions in all phases of the study: these are Reduction (of the number of laboratory animals), Refinement (to minimise discomfort) and Replacement (of the experiment with one not using animals, or with animals for whom it causes less discomfort). The Utrecht University’s 3Rs-Centre ULS and other bodies encourage the use of these methods. In 2016 a joint stimulus fund was founded, and five applications were granted. The close collaboration with the laboratory animal-rights organisation Proefdiervrij on the Animal donor codicil was continued.
In interpreting the year’s figures, it is important not to confuse the number of animal experiments conducted with the number of laboratory animals used. Although any experiment on animals indeed requires a laboratory animal, if that same animal is used in a second experiment, there are two animal experiments but still one laboratory animal.
Organisations conducting experiments on animals must report annually to the government how many animal experiments they have done and how many laboratory animals were used for them. Not every intervention that uses animals fits the definition of an experiment on animals. For example, teaching students how to handle, restrain or bandage animals is not considered an experiment. Legally an animal experiment is one in which the discomfort level is that of an injection or higher.
Number of animal experiments per faculty or institute
The total number of animal experiments carried out in 2016 in Utrecht (21,053) is virtually the same as the previous year (21,195). At Utrecht University the number increased by 1,455 and at the UMC Utrecht it decreased by 1,896. The increase at Utrecht University was mainly due to additional experimentation in the Biology department on zebra fish.
Multiple uses of laboratory animals occurred much more often at Utrecht University (4,483 times) than at the UMC Utrecht (562 times). This is because of the more frequent use of the same animals for education, especially in Veterinary Medicine. Partly because of this, but also because of such things as research on poultry health and illness, this faculty does the most animal experiments. The Faculty of Science (which includes the Pharmaceutical Sciences and Biology departments) conducts considerably fewer animal experiments.
Purpose of the animal experiments
Animal experiments at Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht were done for three main purposes: 43.3% were for fundamental research, 28.7% for translational and applied research and nearly 28% for education. At Utrecht University, over half had an educational purpose. Fundamental research is research into processes without a direct application being envisaged, such as the process of cell division. Applied research is focused on an application, such as a medical therapy. Translational research connects fundamental research with an application, for example, research on the question of what substances affect the cell division studied in fundamental research. The division is a good reflection of the core activities of both institutes. Conducting fundamental research is a typical core activity of an academic institute.
More than half of the laboratory animals used (55%) were mice. Besides mice, rats were also used (14.1%), followed by chickens (9.9%), cattle (6.9%) and zebra fish (6.7%). In particular, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, horses, sheep cattle, chickens and doves were re-used a number of times, mostly for educational purposes.
|Number of animals reused||Number of animals killed||Total number of animal experiments|
|Horses, donkeys & cross-breeds||0||0||33||0||113||0|
|Transgenic zebra fish||0||0||68||0||68|
Numbers of animals killed without being used
The number of animals killed without being used for either research or education was slightly smaller than the number of animals that were actually used. This occurs when animals have a genetic makeup that is unusable, or are the wrong sex. In 2016, 36% less animals were killed without being used (15,490) than in 2015. Because record-keeping of animals killed after being used for breeding was better in 2016 than in 2015, their numbers therefore show an increase (+120%). Several breeding lines that were no longer needed due to shifts in interest in those areas were destroyed.
|Killed in stock||Killed after being used for breeding||Total|
|Horses, donkeys & cross-breeds||3||0||0||0||3||0|
|Transgenic zebra fish||1,043||0||0||0||1,043||0|
Degree of discomfort
Laboratory animals used in practical education usually experience little discomfort. This partly explains why the majority of animal experiments at Utrecht University are associated with mild discomfort (72.3%). In research at the UMC Utrecht, there was relatively more surgery performed on animals, which explains the higher levels of discomfort there. The distribution of the number of animal experiments over the various categories of discomfort remained virtually the same as in 2015.
Prof. dr. Aldert Piersma werd in 2016 aangesteld tot bijzonder hoogleraar Reproductie- en Ontwikkelingstoxicologie aan het Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS) van de Universiteit Utrecht. Centraal in zijn werk staat het verminderen van het aantal proefdieren voor het testen van giftige stoffen terwijl de testmethoden even goed blijven, zo niet beter worden. Hij is lid van de Gezondheidsraad en hoofdredacteur van het Journal of Reproductive Toxicology. Hij zit in tal van nationale en internationale commissies. In 2007 won hij de eerste Lef-in-het-lab-prijs voor zijn rol in het terugdringen van proefdiergebruik in reproductieonderzoek.
Prof. dr. Coenraad Hendriksen, hoogleraar Alternatieven voor Dierproeven, ging medio 2016 met emeritaat en ontving daarbij de Lef in het Lab-prijs van de Dierenbescherming. Hij bleef zich ook daarna actief bezighouden met onderwijs, voorlichting en onderzoek rondom 3V-methoden. In het kader van onderwijs verzorgde hij aan verschillende universiteiten in Nederland het college ‘3V-Alternatieven’ in de cursus Proefdierkunde. Hij gaf meerdere lezingen in binnen- en buitenland. Hij is lid van een aantal binnen- en buitenlandse commissies, waaronder het Nationaal Comité advies dierproeven (NCad), de Commissie innovatieve technieken van ZonMw en het Europese Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA).
Op 28 januari 2016 overleed prof. dr. Frauke Ohl, Hoogleraar Dierenwelzijn & Proefdierkunde en voorzitter van het Departement Dier in Wetenschap en Maatschappij van de Universiteit Utrecht. Zij was nauw betrokken bij het welzijn van proefdieren in Utrecht. Zij leidde het onderzoek naar diergedrag, om zodoende hun behoeften beter te leren begrijpen en daar rekening mee te kunnen houden in de omgang met dieren. Zij was tevens lid van het Nationaal Comité advies dierproeven (NCad) en voorzitter van de Raad voor Dierenaangelegenheden (RDA). Zij nam initiatief tot de oprichting van het Centre for Sustainable Animal Stewardship (CenSAS).
Dr. Jan van der Valk, medisch-bioloog en 3V-adviseur, coördineert het 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences, dat deel uitmaakt van het Departement Dier in Wetenschap en Maatschappij van de Universiteit Utrecht. Het centrum stimuleert de ontwikkeling, toepassing en acceptatie van 3V-methoden. Het doet dit door onderzoekers te adviseren en te informeren, onder andere door het ontsluiten van internationale kennis via websites. Daarnaast biedt het centrum aan een breed publiek voorlichting en informatie. Ook werkt het mee aan de cursus Proefdierkunde. Het 3Rs-Centre ULS werkt nauw samen met de Instantie voor Dierenwelzijn Utrecht.