According to the latest statistics from 2019, 572’069 animals were reported to have been used in animal experimentation in Switzerland. Of those, around 223’000 were in severity degree 0 experiments, implying no significant burden was placed on the animal. A further 172’000 were in severity degree 1 studies, indicating only a light burden for the animals; for example, behavioural experiments where some degree of direct handling is necessary. The remaining 176’000 animals were used in experiments graded severity degree 2 (27.6%), a moderate burden with generally short-lasting effects, or in severity degree 3 (3.2%), a severe burden with long-term effects (see here for a detailed explanations of the severity degrees). Over the past decade, despite the yearly decrease in total animal numbers used, there has been a steady increase in the animals used in severity 2 and 3 experiments.
The 3Rs principle should be applied to all research using animals. However, when debating on where priority should be placed, it is often those experiments with the highest burden on the animals involved that come into mind. As a consequence, this year:
The 3RCC recognises that the most direct way to decrease the use of animals in high-severity models would be to find complete replacement models, whether in vitro, mathematical/computational, etc. However, it is also clear to that for many of the animal models in question, such full replacement is currently not feasible. Therefore, reduction of the total number of animals used is critical, through either better experimental practices / breeding schemes etc, or improving the quality of methods such that experiments do not report ambiguous results. Furthermore, a refinement to the procedures used in the current high-severity experiments should lead to an improvement in the welfare of the animals, and ideally a lower category of severity degree.
Therefore, the 3RCC believes that an integrated 3Rs-alternative solution, which takes advantage of the multiple facets of the 3Rs principle, is the optimal path for genuine progress. This calls for research that is conducted in a collaborative manner across the variety of disciplines involved.
Proposals should thus consider:
Which aspects of the current high-severity model, whether SD2 or SD3, could be realistically replaced, which procedures / interventions could be refined, and which could be reduced? Can the previous model be completely substituted with the new set of approaches?
What collaborations need to be established to gather the expertise needed to successfully tackle the multi-faceted aspects of such a proposal? Consider the collaborations that will be necessary for the problem formulation, scientific development, and further implementation of the new approaches.
What results need to be achieved for the scientific community to embrace the new 3Rs-alternative model as the new gold standard? Do previous results need to be replicated? Does the model translate better to humans? Is the new model more reproducible?
How could you ensure that this new 3Rs-alternative model be successfully implemented in the scientific community in the next 5-10 years? Will the scientific evidence be sufficient alone; will additional training be required; what sort of communication strategy is necessary? Are there special considerations for uptake of the approach within Switzerland or internationally?
The Swiss 3RCC will provide up to CHF 920’000.- over 3-5 years to the best proposal demonstrating a clear understanding of the issue at hand, an optimal 3Rs-alternative model which maximally reduces the suffering of animals in a particular model, with a clear path described on how this 3Rs-alternative would take the place of the current model in the field.