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Alternative methods

According to regulations, an alternative method in animal research Refines, Replaces or Reduces the use of animals (the 3Rs principle). An alternative method that completely eliminates the use of animals is called a replacement method.

Replacing is limited by the difficulty to draw the same conclusions from a model created and maintained by researchers compared to an autonomous living being. A report of the European Commission explains, for example, the difficulties to replacing in vivo methods by in vitro methods for the study of the toxicity of chemicals in the environment. However, there are cases of substitution, such as keeping alive strains of Plasmodium – the malaria parasite – which is now possible in vitro, without the use of animals.

Replacement methods are also being developed in the field of quality control of organic products – a field that uses a large number of animals. They are also very much chosen as alternatives in the study of the toxicity of skin and eye products.

Reducing the number of animals used for animal research is a natural approach for ethical but also economic reasons. The reduction is gradually becoming more prominent for scientific and technological reasons. Thus, the genetic homogeneity of laboratory animal strains is now making it possible to reduce the number of animals for each study without deteriorating its quality. New technologies (imaging, telemetry) have also made it possible to collect information on the internal organs of animals without the need for euthanasia.

Refining is essential. Indeed, once the number of animals is reduced to a minimum, the needs of every single one of those animals must be addressed. Reducing discomfort, stress and pain are at the core of the refining ideals. The methods for the refining concern shelters:

- Planning the layout of the cages, boxes and enclosures (enriching the environment),
- Acclimatization period,
- Group accommodation whenever possible.

Improvement methods also concern experimental conditions: habituation to handling and to restraint, analgesia and anesthesia if necessary.

Francopa is a French platform for the development, the validation, and the dissemination of alternative methods to animal testing. Its very comprehensive website has information about these methods, a section on the frequently asked questions, a forum, a newsletter and links to other equivalent European sites.