Why do researchers use experiments on animals in their research?
The reason why animals are used in research is because for many research questions, there are still no other scientific methods that can provide answers. According to Swedish legislation (Djurskyddslag SFS 1998:534) and European legislation, experiments on animals must only be used if the research result cannot be achieved using other methods.
Experiments on animals are used primarily in medical and natural sciences research. Some examples are research that increases our knowledge of how the human body works, why we get certain diseases, or what effects pollution has on the natural environment.
Who is responsible for what?
The Swedish Research Council requires that all research we fund shall comply with good research practice, and that ethical approval for matters such as experiments on animals is in place before the researcher starts the research.
The researcher and the administrating organisation (the higher education institution where the researcher works) are responsible for ensuring regulations and good research practice are complied with, and that the research has the ethical approvals needed before the research starts. They apply for approval for experiments on animals from an animal ethics committee.
The animal ethics committee assesses whether a research project can be allowed to conduct experiments on animals in Sweden. They balance the suffering of the animal against the purpose of the experiment, and assess whether the purpose can be achieved using any other method. The committee also sets requirements for the design of the experiment. The aim is to ensure as few animals as possible are used, and that the animals used are exposed to as little suffering as possible.
The Swedish Board of Agriculture is responsible for the animal ethics committees, and for the Swedish regulations governing experiments on animals.
What applies for experiments on animals abroad?
If the experiments on animals are to be carried out in another country, then the approval for the research must be given by that country. These approvals must also be in place before the researcher can begin the research. The animal ethics committees in Sweden cannot issue ethical approval for experiments on animals to be carried out in any other country.
If the research grant application states that the research project will be carrying out experiments on animals in another country that probably/clearly would not get approval to be carried out in Sweden, then the Swedish Research Council will not approve the application.
Why are experiments on animals necessary?
There are currently no scientific methods available that can replace all types of experiments on animals. Experiments on animals are an important part of both biomedical basic research and research into new medicines. One example is studies investigating processes where different organs and organ systems work together and communicate with each other in a living organism. Such studies cannot be carried out in any way other than using animals or humans.
Medicines must be tested – sometimes this can only be done on animals
To get a permit from the Swedish Medical Products Agency to sell a medicine in Sweden, it must first have been tested on animals or by using other validated methods that are of equally high quality and just as suited to forming the basis for a safety assessment (LVFS 2010:8 and 2001/83/EC, Appendix 1). Following these tests, the medicine can then be tested in clinical studies on humans.
We need more knowledge about animals
Experiments on animals are needed to obtain knowledge about the welfare of wild and tame animals, that is to say their health, behaviours and diseases. Experiments on animals can also be used to better understand how wild animals live, and how different environmental factors impact on them, such as pollution or climate change.
The Swedish Research Council promotes the development of other methods
The Swedish Research Council funds research aimed at developing methods that mean fewer animals are used, and the animals’ suffering is reduced. This type of research, known as ‘3R research’, tries to find methods that can replace experiments on animals. 3R is an abbreviation of Reduce, Refine, Replace. So far, this research has led to methods that reduce the number of animals in a study or reduce the animals’ suffering. As a result of this research, it has also been possible to phase out some experiments on animals, but for large parts of research there are still no alternatives.
The Swedish Research Council collaborates with other public agencies in the area, primarily Sweden’s 3R centre at the Swedish Board of Agriculture, which works with a focus on animal welfare and to ensure fewer animals are used in experiments.
More information on djurforsok.info
All who work with research and research issues have a responsibility to inform about why experiments on animals are used, and which rules apply. The Swedish Research Council therefore operates the website djurforsok.info together with eight higher education institutions. Here you can find more information about experiments on animals.