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The use of transgenic animals in biomedical research in Germany.
Part 2: Perspectives to change biomedical research to non-animal test methods


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Ursula G. Sauer, Roman Kolar and Brigitte Rusche
German Animal Welfare Federation - Animal Welfare Academy, Neubiberg, Germany
Summary

As a rule, transgenic animals are being used in in vivo experiments to examine gene functions, their regulation or the contribution of genetic alterations to the development of diseases. Many transgenic animals already are affected in their wellbeing due to the genetic modification alone regardless of the procedures performed with them. Moreover, it is to be questioned wither the experimental use of transgenic animals led to results that were of such outstanding scientific relevance that they legitimated the suffering of the animals. In order to point to possible approaches to avoiding the use of transgenic animals in the areas of research identified, subsequent investigations aimed at collecting information on non-animal test methods that might be applied in pursuing the aforesaid questions. In particular, these were non-animal test methods that make use of genetic techniques. Amongst these are in vitro cell culture methods with genetically modified cells, such as the so called Transfected Cell Array, as well as in vitro test methods, in which specifically targeted genes can be turned on or off selectively for example by the so-called RNA interference technique or by antisense oligonucleotide genes. Since such technologies can also be applied to cell cultures with human cells, investigations with these methods enable direct information on the function of human genes.
Even though a one to one replacement of animal experiments with transgenic animals by non-animal test methods is considered unlikely, from the point of view of animal welfare the broad spectrum of already available non animal test methods with which to study the function of genes and genetically caused pathophysiological reactions proves that waiving of animal tests with transgenic animals is possible without impeding biomedical research. Even if it cannot be totally excluded that some very specific questions linked to the respective animal experiment might not be pursued for the time being, nevertheless research that would be restricted to modern and ethically acceptable in vitro test methods would certainly conceive its very own questions to pursue and solve the problems currently faced by biomedical research.
It is against this background that it is to be welcomed that the German Federal Government currently actively promotes the further development of genetechnological non-animal test methods. In order to ensure that these funding measures will make an effective contribution to reducing animal experiments, as spelled out by the government itself, the conversion of genetechnological research, just like biomedical research as a whole, to non-animal testing methods should be supported by concrete political actions.
From the point of view of the German Animal Welfare Federation the following issues are to be requested:
• In order to enable a fast and comprehensive advancement of promising genetechnological non-animal test methods, it should be ensured that public funding is provided with an adequate budget and over a sufficiently long period of time.
• The legislator should initiate broad discussions on the question if society would be willing to dispense with certain pieces of knowledge if they would necessarily have to be gained at the expense of a certain degree of animal suffering. As the case may be, in the German Animal Welfare Act it should be laid down that certain procedures should not be considered acceptable as such.
• As long as animal experiments with transgenic animals continue to be performed, concrete legal measures should be laid down in the German Animal Welfare Act to ensure that the distress of the animals (taking into account all factors relevant for transgenic animals) and the expected benefit of the research project are determined objectively so that the outcome of the ethical evaluation process becomes comprehensible.
• The legislator should provide the authorities responsible for the licensing of research projects with concrete instructions in order to ensure that all aspects relevant for the welfare of the animals are fully taken into account when evaluating the ethical acceptability and scientific indispensability of projects and that special attention is given to research projects with transgenic animals.
• The German Decree on the Reporting of Laboratory Animals should be amended to ensure that all individual transgenic animals are included in the official statistical reports regardless of whether they end up being used in scientific procedures or not. From the point of view of animal welfare it is possible to redesign biomedical research to do without transgenic animals without impeding necessary scientific progress. The survey in hand sought to make a contribution to providing a scientifically sound background for initiating these discussions.


ALTEX 23(1), 13-16

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