The Dutch biomedical research sector has welcomed the publication of the first comprehensive statistics, from across the EU, including the Netherlands, on all uses of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research.
The headline figures published show that the total number of animals used in the EU in 2017 was 9,388,162. More than 92% of the total were mice, fish, rats, and birds, whereas cats, dogs and primates, accounted for around 0.25% of the total.
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were also released for animal use in the Netherlands in 2017 (see also case study below) although these have been superseded by the recent release of the 2018 statistics. The most used animals in the Netherlands in 2017 were mice, rats, and birds, which represented 77.3% of the total – dogs, cats, and monkeys made up 0.2% (see also Notes to Editors below).
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.
Commenting on the figures, Kirk Leech, executive director of the European Animal Research Association (EARA), said: “The EU biomedical sector is committed to transparency and openness on the use of animals in research and this is another step towards that."
“Using animals as a research model is often the only way to develop new treatments and understanding of the human body and we congratulate the EU for making these statistics public.”
Studying mice to help prevent heart attacks and stroke
Research from Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has used animal imaging studies to identify when arteries become clogged with fatty substances, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Plaques in blood vessels are the main cause of heart attack and stroke and when they rupture, they release material into the blood, clogging downstream arteries.
Using non-invasive imaging in mice, the team could detect plaques with much a higher resolution than diagnostic techniques currently used in the clinic.
This is of high significance for timely diagnostics in women where the plaques tend to be smaller than in male patients, but not less hazardous.
The findings led to clinical research in humans, where the same imaging technique was used. Such clinical studies depend on developing this imaging approach with animal models of vascular disease.
Martje Fentener van Vlissingen, Head of the Erasmus MC Animal Research Facility, said:
“Animal imaging studies can translate into new clinical imaging methods, contributing to better diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis in patients, preventing heart attacks and stroke.”
Separate figures were also produced to record the number of animals that were bred but not used in experiments, which was 12,597,816 across the EU. These can be animals that underwent no procedures themselves; that were the wrong gender for a particular research study; or were a necessary surplus from breeding.
There was also a figure for animals used for the creation and maintenance of genetically altered animal lines (1,276,587).
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.
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.
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.
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 more than 80 partner organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 17 European countries.