The Italian biomedical research sector has welcomed the publication of comprehensive statistics, from across the EU, including Italy, on all uses of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research for 2018.
The headline figures in the European Commission report show that the total number of animals used in the EU in 2018 was 8,921,758 - slightly lower than in 2017 (9,388,162). In 2018, 88% of the total were mice, fish and rats, whereas dogs, cats and monkeys account for around 0.3% of the total – for the first time these percentage figures also included Norway.
The total is made up of animals used in basic and applied research, and regulatory studies aimed at ensuring the safety of medicines and other products, routine production and education and training.
Statistics were also released for animal use in Italy in 2018 which were 547,129 (564,469 - 2017). The most used animals in Italy were mice, rats, and birds, which represented 88% of the total – dogs, cats, and monkeys made up 0.15% (see also the case study below and Notes to Editors below).
According to the EU statistics, the top three EU countries for animal use in 2018 were France 1,752,906 (2017 - 1,757,837), UK 1,749,901 (2017 - 1,839,079) and Germany 1,629,228 (2017 - 1,793,299).
Dogs can be used to test new drugs before clinical trials are conducted in humans, while monkeys are also used in drug testing and have played a significant role in research in AIDS and developing treatments for Parkinson’s disease, as well as the Covid-19 vaccine during the 2020-21 pandemic.
EARA executive director, Kirk Leech, said: “This year we have seen the vital contribution that research using animals has had during the Covid-19 pandemic. At a time of growing activist pressure on the European Commission to immediately end the use of animal research, these annual statistics demonstrate the commitment the biomedical sector is showing to being open and transparent about the important work it does.”
Separate figures were also produced to record the number of animals used for the creation and maintenance of genetically altered animal lines, across the EU-28 (plus Norway) in 2018 this was 1,520,791 (in 2017 the figure for the EU-28 was - 1,276,587).
Case studies Drug to regrow nerves works in mice Scientists at the University of Padova, Italy, have created a drug treatment that promotes nerve regrowth, which could reduce recovery time after injuries.
A step forward to treat kidney disease using mice Researchers at EARA member the University of Padova, Italy, have found a potential target for early treatment of kidney inflammation caused by lupus.
Notes to the editor
Animal research is strictly regulated under the EU Directive 2010/63. Every procedure, from a simple blood test to major surgery, requires individual, establishment and project licences, as well as approval from animal welfare and ethical review bodies.
Most of the medicines we have come from animal research. Often science doesn’t need to use animals, but for many key questions they are crucial.
Animals are used alongside several other techniques such as cell cultures, human studies and computational models. These methods are used – often in tandem – to answer the key biological questions necessary to understand and treat disease. Before an animal model is selected, researchers must show that the knowledge could not be acquired using non-animal methods.
All organisations are committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible; minimising the number of animals used per experiment and optimising the experience of the animals to improve animal welfare. However, as institutions expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.
Since 2013, it has been illegal to sell or import cosmetics anywhere in the EU where the finished product or its ingredients have been tested on animals.
The number of procedures each year is usually slightly higher than the number of animals used. This is because some animals may be re-used in research. These instances are counted as separate, additional, procedures.
About EARA The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It has 117 partner organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 21 European countries.