Frequently Asked Questions
Experiments on animals help us to develop an understanding of how humans and other animals function. They contribute to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease in humans and animals. Laboratory animals are also used for the education of students and the training of medical specialists, researchers and research technicians. Despite all the developments in the field of alternative methods, abolition of animal experiments is not possible in the short term. Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht are working on animal-free innovations.
Around 20.000 animal experiments are performed annually by Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht. During the past decennia, the number of animal experiments has dropped significantly. Recent numbers are available in the Annual Reports the joint institutions publish together each year.
Both organisations do everything they can to encourage the Replacement, Reduction and Refinement (3Rs) of animal experiments. Thanks to research into alternatives it is increasingly possible to carry out research with less or no laboratory animals. However, it is still not possible to obtain all the necessary research data with alternative methods. Examples of alternative methods are computer simulations, cell culture and mini-organs on a chip.
Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht have set up a legally required Animal Welfare Body. This body supervises the welfare of the animals. It reviews project proposals, work protocols and the competence of employees. It also carries out inspections, during which the administration associated with experiments on animals is checked and the welfare of the animals is assessed. It also stimulates the 3 R’s: replacement, reduction and refinement. A special information centre has also been set up for this purpose, the Utrecht Life Sciences 3R Centre. Moreover, regular inspections are carried out by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). Upon completion of an animal experiment, the researcher writes an evaluation of the animal welfare to be used in the assessment of future animal experiments.
Mice, rats and fish are mainly used, but chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, pigs, goats, horses, sheep and cattle are also used. Examples of animal experiments for research and education are provided in the annual report on laboratory animal science. This report also includes up-to-date numbers.
The use of experiments on animals is closely supervised by both the Utrecht Animal Welfare Body and the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). The guarantee of precise implementation of the experiment and monitored animal welfare is the proper care of the animals and very accurate administrative records. Sometimes one of the two bodies discovers an irregularity in the records, such as some missing data. Researchers must deal with this issue quickly, usually within one working day. These measures help guarantee animal welfare and make sure that hardly anything goes wrong.
Most animals are killed after the experiment, because analysis of the animal’s body is part of the experiment. In education, usually of veterinary medicine students, animals are often used multiple times, sometimes for several years. The students learn how to handle or restrain the animals. These animals live at the university and are well cared for like all laboratory animals. Sometimes these animals are adopted after a number of years.
Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht both have a so-called institutional licence to carry out experiments on animals, issued by the Minister of Economic Affairs. These licence holders must also apply for project licences form the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) for each research project. The responsible researcher must include all the details of the research project in this application. A recognised Animal Ethics Committee (DEC) advises the CCD about the project based on ethical consideration.
The Animal Ethics Committee (DEC, in this case the DEC Utrecht) conducts an scientific and ethical review of the project proposal. Based on this, the DEC issues a motivated advisory statement to the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) regarding the granting of the licence. The DEC includes experts from various fields of science, such as an ethicist, a statistician and experts from certain areas of research, from both inside and outside the organisation. At least two of the experts are not involved in carrying out experiments on animals. The chairman of the DEC and at least half of its members have no working relationship (nor has had a working relationship for the past 3 years) with the licensee about which advice is being given.
Some experiments require genetically altered animals. If the genetic altering causes discomfort, then a licence is required to breed or keep these animals.
Information about a project that uses animal experiments is summarized in a non-technical summary (NTS). This is published on the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) website and since 2021 on the website of ALURES in the interests of transparency. In Utrecht, the decision was made to publish the full licence, which includes more details. This is done on the website of the Animal Welfare Body Utrecht.
Stakeholders who object to a decision made by the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD) about the granting of a licence may submit a complaint to the CCD itself. Any stakeholder with a vested (i.e. long-term) interest can file an objection. For example, this could be a licensee (Utrecht University or the UMC Utrecht) or a group dedicated to the welfare of laboratory animals. In the latter case, this goal must be clearly stated in the statutes and it must be clear that the organisation already has a long-term commitment to this goal, and can therefore count on widespread support.
A stakeholder who disagrees with a decision made during an objection procedure can appeal to the Administrative Judge. In addition it is possible to hold summary proceedings to request injunctive relief (suspension). The Administrative Judge decides whether or not to grant an injunction.
The majority of test animals is purchased from companies that are specialised in breeding test animals. This needs to take place under strictly hygienic conditions. If the animals carry viruses, bacteria or parasites, it can disrupt the research.
Lines that are used regularly, are also bred at the institution itself. We aim to limit this because centralisation of breeding can reduce breeding in excess (animals that are bred but not used).
Yes! We regularly meet with animal rights organisations to discuss what we can improve for the welfare of test animals. In collaboration with Proefdiervrij we introduced the Animal Donor Codicil. For the adoption of test animals we collaborate with Animal Rights, rodent shelter Het Knagertje, Animal Control and the Hulp en Herplaatsing Huisdieren Foundation.
It is essential that the right animal is chosen: species, breed and genetic composition. During the setup of a research project, researchers determine which research method can best answer the scientific question. First, research without the use of animals is considered. If this is not viable, several criteria are used to determine which animal will be used. Think of: animal welfare, connection to the human body and existing knowledge about the animal.
Test animals receive cage enrichment (e.g. nesting material and toys). If they are social animals, they are held in a cage or stable with other animals. It is not permitted to house a social animal solitary, unless explicit consent is given and it is required for a certain test. Usually, an animal is held solitary for a short duration and can then return to its companions.
Within Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht, animal experiments are only conducted for research and education. Other organisations unrelated to Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht perform experiments on animals for other purposes. For example, to extract substances from animals, such as antibodies for vaccines or growth media for cell cultures. The growths are not produced by institutions in Utrecht but purchased externally. We continuously consider whether there are already animal-free alternatives on the market.