Eine Maus auf der Hand eines Tierpflegers

How do we handle our laboratory animals?

Good science and good animal welfare go hand in hand

Stress or suffering on the part of an animal may distort the results of experiments. For example, stress leads to an increase in the release of certain hormones and can affect animals’ blood pressure and metabolism.

These considerations led scientists to introduce the principle of “three Rs”: reduce, refine, replace. Scientists always endeavor to obtain the maximum information from the smallest number of experiments (reduce, refine), to limit animals’ suffering to a minimum (refine), or to gain the intended information without animal experiments (replace).

Many researchers at the MDC work on improving the methods and technologies needed to achieve these aims. These include “omics” methods (genomics, proteomics, metabolomics), which we can use to obtain huge quantities of data from just a few experiments (reduce, refine), and imaging techniques such as ultrasound and MRT, which are non-invasive and therefore much gentler (refine). At the IPL, the new animal house that is currently under construction at the MDC, we will expand our non-invasive imaging capabilities.

Legal framework

Germany has some of the strictest animal protection laws in the world. Since 2002, animal welfare has even received mention in the national constitution. We adhere to the laws and ethical standards that are in place.

The authority responsible for these matters in Berlin is the Berlin State Office for Health and Social Affairs (LaGeSo). Its decisions are supported by an animal experimentation committee which at all times includes representatives of animal welfare organizations (one third of the members), scientists, and an ethics commissioner.

Every experiment must be justified, precisely described, and then authorized by the animal welfare authorities before any animals become involved in a scientific project. The expected scientific and medical benefits of every animal experiment must be weighed against the estimated degree of suffering that the animals will experience. In addition, it is standard practice before any experiment to undertake a comprehensive literature review to make sure the experiment has not already been conducted elsewhere and would therefore be unnecessary. In short, the three Rs must be adhered to. During experiments, the MDC’s animal protection officers check compliance with the standards and advise researchers when necessary. The MDC currently employs five such officers, one of whom works full time. The responsible authorities can check compliance with the standards at any time. All experiments are logged, and the number of animals used is reported annually to the LaGeSo.

The MDC supports the European directive on the protection of laboratory animals

Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes became law in November 2010. The MDC supports the Directive as it improves animal welfare standards across Europe and compels researchers to replace animal experiments with other methods where possible, to reduce the number of laboratory animals, and to refine their experiments. “Refining” includes, for example, choosing methods that minimize animals’ pain and suffering. The Directive sets minimum standards for the housing and care of laboratory animals, prescribes regular inspections, and requires researchers to publish descriptions of experiments in terms that laypeople can understand.

In March 2015, the MDC and many other European research institutions published a statement in support of the Directive.

The MDC supports the Basel Declaration

All signatories of the Basel Declaration on animal research, which was passed in November 2010, have agreed to uphold ethical standards and promote greater transparency and communication on animal research. The MDC signed the Declaration in 2012.

Basel Declaration