Looking back on the 3RCC Zebrafish Refinement Webinar - November 6th, 2023

Looking back on the 3RCC Zebrafish Refinement Webinar - November 6th, 2023

On November 6th, 2023, the Swiss 3RCC organized an online “Refinement Workshop” that brought together international experts from the academic field, animal welfare organizations and biotechnology companies to provide state-of-the-art knowledge on zebrafish refinement measures. Zebrafish, widely used worldwide as a research model, were the focus of this workshop, which provided insights into refinement strategies for improving zebrafish welfare in the laboratory.

The workshop was co-organized and chaired by Aude Rapet (Education Officer at the Swiss 3RCC), Dr. Andrina Zbinden (Executive Board member of the Swiss 3RCC), and Dr. Doris Lou Demy (Swiss 3RCC collaborator). A total of 190 participants from worldwide institutions and diverse backgrounds, including students, technicians, researchers, veterinarians, engineers, animal welfare officers and laboratory managers, attended.

The webinar was initiated by Dr Lynne Sneddon from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, who has dedicated over two decades to advancing topics related to fish health and welfare. In 2023, she received the Johns Hopkins CAAT and Charles River Excellence in Refinement Award. Dr Sneddon shared her expertise on zebrafish pain assessment, notably by monitoring the behaviour of zebrafish and the complexity of their movements. She introduced the Fish Behaviour Index (FBI), automated tool designed to monitor the behaviour of singly housed zebrafish. Continuing her presentation, she highlighted the critical role of anaesthesia and analgesia protocols for improving the welfare of zebrafish.

Dr Chloe Stevens, Senior Scientific Officer for Refinement in the Animals in Science Department at the RSPCA, the largest animal welfare charity in the UK, focused on enrichment for laboratory zebrafish. She explained data from studies on occupational, physical, social, dietary, and sensory enrichment in detail, to prove their potential to improve zebrafish welfare. Reminding us of the common barriers for enrichment implementation, she encouraged the dissemination of results from enrichment trials.

Dr Doris Lou Demy, with an extensive experience in zebrafish development, immunology, and neurobiology, delivered an insightful presentation on the possibility of rehoming zebrafish. As a co-founder of a laboratory animals rehoming association, she elaborated on the European legislation for rehoming laboratory animals and described the required conditions to rehome zebrafish.

Dr Will Norton, Associate Professor in Animal Biology at the University of Leicester in the UK, addressed skin swabbing as a refined technique to collecting DNA samples from laboratory fish. He revealed how the analysis of different welfare readouts showed that fin clipping causes a statistically significant increase in cortisol release in comparison to skin swabbing. He also shed light on the PCR genotyping efficiency using this new technique.

Dr Colette vom Berg, head of the Molecular Toxicology group at EAWAG, which is a world’s leading aquatic research institute, discussed the refinement of zebrafish husbandry. She provided insightful details on general recommendations for zebrafish husbandry. From observations made during her professional experience, she suggested refinement possibilities that can be implemented at several steps, such as during zebrafish feeding and regarding housing conditions, breeding, documentation, and health checks.

Dr Andrina Zbinden, Animal Welfare Officer at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, delved into the topic of Culture of Care (CoC) in zebrafish experimentations. After presenting the CoC charter, she outlined the national zebrafish CoC working group she leads, which aims to exchange information, increase knowledge, improve welfare, and harmonize protocols.

Dr Alessandro De Simone, Assistant Professor in the Department of Genetics and Evolution at the University of Geneva, gave a dynamic presentation of an opportunity for reduction and refinement by the quantitative investigation of adult scale regeneration using live imaging. He emphasized how this technique works starting from a live imaging capture and illustrated examples of possible applications.

Ana Hernando, COO and co-founder of Bionomous, presented the EggSorter, an automated tool to standardize the screening, sorting, and dispensing of zebrafish embryos. After explaining the algorithm behind the technology, she presented use cases in toxicity studies. She underlined automation as the key for reaching standardization and advancing the 3Rs principles in zebrafish research.

During the event, the audience participated actively by addressing thoughtful questions to the speakers, emphasizing their engagement in the topic, not commonly addressed despite the large use of zebrafish in research. Most of the contributions were recorded and will later be available on the Swiss 3RCC website as educational content.

In hosting the Zebrafish Refinement Webinar workshop, accredited by the Swiss Association of Cantonal Veterinarians for half a day of continuing education, the Swiss 3RCC actively pursued its educational mission. The event served as a platform for knowledge-sharing and provided a unique opportunity to enquire international experts on the latest advances in refinement methods. Therefore, this initiative successfully contributed to the enhancement of zebrafish welfare in laboratories worldwide.


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