Animal testing, a scientist’s opinion
Interview with Professor PierFranco Conte, Full Professor of Oncology at the University of Padova and Director of the Division of Medical Oncology 2 at the Istituto Oncologico Veneto in Padova.
In your opinion, why is animal use for scientific purposes still so common place? Are animal models still essential for progressing research?
Yes, animal models are still essential for some research fields, e.g. oncology, pharmacology, immunology, and neurology, where complex interactions between cells and tissues are essential components of the research.
However, the increasing motivation of scientists to optimise and standardise experimental systems has led to the development of better experimental practices that include preliminary testing in vitro and ex vivo screening techniques before testing in vivo. The number of animals can be reduced to a minimum by performing small pilot experiments before conducting the full experiments. This approach provides good estimates of the required number of animals to achieve appropriate statistical power and conclusive results.
In some cases reviewers and journal editors request extension of in vitro experiments to an animal model by default, even when the in vivo experiments do not add significantly to the findings. An effort should be made to encourage editors and reviewers to carefully evaluate the utility of such experiments, and possibly suggest alternative approaches.
During your career, have you noticed any trends of declining animal use, or do you predict a decline in use in the near future?
In the last 10-15 years there has been a steady decline in the number of animals used and, even more importantly, a dramatic improvement in the attention to the animals’ well-being and on the appropriateness of the animal care procedures. Furthermore, the use of strictly controlled authorization procedures and controlled experimental conditions has dramatically reduced the inappropriate use of in vivo testing and accidental loss of animals.
I predict that with the development of technologies and 3D ex vivo cultures such as spheroids and organoids, the use of experimental animals will be further reduced in the future.
Is there any particular role the EU institutions could play or improve regarding animal use in research, e.g. communication to the public?
The EU should promote and publicize regulations aimed at encouraging “animal-free” research, and discourage the use of experimental animals when there is an appropriate alternative. This could be enhanced by increasing funding resources to stimulate the development of innovative models of human disease to minimize or possibly entirely replace animal testing of new drugs in terms of therapeutic efficacy, pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetic properties.