A Belgian TV programme featuring a leading researcher in neuroscience has recently presented a stimulating discussion on whether animal use will ever be able to be completely phased out of biomedical research in Europe, and if current alternative methods are sufficient to replace animals.
On a recent episode of the national programme Le 1/4h Sciences (in French), Professor Alban de Kerchove, of EARA member ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and research director of the National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS), Belgium, discussed the question, ‘Will we ever be able to stop performing scientific experiments on animals?’ – see the English transcript.
In conversation with presenter Julie Morelle, Prof de Kerchove (pictured on the programme, below), answering the question posed, referred to a response by the European Commission on the matter, which stressed that there is no ‘scientific argument that allows us to say, given current knowledge, that we’ll be able to completely replace animal experimentation’.
Prof de Kerhove went on to say that although imagining a direction where animals were no longer used ‘makes sense’, it was only realistic to use living organisms at this stage in, for example, the study of psychiatric disorders (his area of research).
“Can you imagine an organoid or Petri dish expressing stress? Or, for Parkinson’s disease, all the motor problems?” he asked.
Also included in the programme were the regulations and ethics surrounding animal research – a topic of discussion that was in part spurred on by an animal activist demonstration at the University of Liège that had taken place the previous week.
Prof de Kerhove explained the rigorous process in the EU, as laid out by Directive 2010/63, that dictates that animals are only permitted to be used in studies when no suitable alternative exists. He highlighted the strict ethical protocol of approving studies involving animals in Belgium and the rest of the EU to demonstrate that such research is not carried out simply because ‘animals are too easy to use’, as put by Morelle.
Earlier in the report, journalist Johanne Montay presented an overview of the 3Rs principle – ‘This is really the backbone of animal ethics,’ she said – and summarised the 2021 statistics of animal use for scientific purposes in Belgium, and the main reasons to be for basic research into disease mechanisms, as well as drug development and toxicity testing.