Alternatives to Animal Experimentation
The search for alternative methods to animal testing is underway in many laboratories across the entire world. While success has been made, the research is far from over. These alternatives have been developed using the concept of the three R’s.
In 1959, William Russell and Rex Burch defined the principle of the three R’s in the book Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. The three R’s are reduction, refinement, and finally replacement (5).
The first concept, reduction alternatives, covers any strategy that will result in fewer animals being used to obtain the same amount of information. Also, reduction refers to maximizing the information obtained per animal so as to limit or avoid the use of more animals. There are several approaches that can help to reduce the use of animals. Some laboratories alert all of the researchers when animals are going to be killed in an experiment. For example, one researcher may be doing a study on livers, and so other researchers may be able to use the kidneys, heart, or brain tissue for other experiments. In some cases it might also be possible to use in vitro methods, which are studies done with cells or tissues cultured in a petri dish, in place of in vivo methods, which are studies done in the living animal (3).
The second principle, refinement, represents the modification of any procedure from the time the laboratory animal is born until its death, to minimize the pain and distress experienced by the animal. Paying attention to issues of animal welfare is not only important in light of ethics, but also in the matter of good science. The experience of pain and other stress is likely to have an effect on the variability of experimental results. In fact, it is in the best interest of the researcher to ensure that conditions in animal facilities are the best possible. It does not require excessive funding to enrich the environment in which the animals live in. For example, toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, and PVC tubing can provide rodents with places to hide. Bales of straw and rubber tires can be used to create an area for rabbits to interact with other members of their species. Dogs can be given numerous toys to play with, and be provided with a raised platform so they are not forced to stand in their own waste.
It is also important for the staff of the facility to be well trained in handling the animals that are being used, and that they have the correct attitude when working with the animals. Anesthesia should be used whenever possible, and at the end of the experiment, the most humane method of euthanasia should be chosen.
The final concept of the three R’s is replacement. Any experimental system that does not use whole, living animals is considered to be a replacement alternative. Some of these techniques still involve the humane killing of an animal for the purpose of obtaining cells, tissues, or organs for in vitro studies. Other...