The need for animal research does not mean that we do not continue to search for alternatives. We follow the 3R principle: reduce, refine, replace.
The Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics makes sure that all animal experiments conform fully to legal regulations and guidelines. We make sure that both scientific and non-scientific staff members receive regular in-house training and inspections on animal welfare. We accept nothing less than the strictest adherence to animal welfare guidelines, and the slightest deviation is penalized.
We always measure our own experiments against the 3R principle.
This means that wherever possible we always try to:
The 3R Principle in Theory and Reality
- reduce the number of animals used,
- refine study methods, and
- replace animal experiments with alternative methods.
The fact that animal research is necessary should not preclude searching for alternatives. The “three R” (reduction, refinement, and replacement) concept is now welcomed by many scientists and is embraced by our laboratory.
Reduction means attempting to use fewer animals to obtain the same amount of information. The sharing of research animals and improved statistical methods allowing the use of fewer animals are examples of reduction alternatives.
In our laboratory, the employment of techniques such as structural and functional MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) substantially reduces the number of animals required in each study, simply by making the accurate placement of recording chambers possible, and by providing evidence of the location of neural sites that may be directly involved in the investigated task.
Refinement means altering existing procedures to minimize the discomfort they cause to the animals. The uses of new, more effective analgesics or closer monitoring for signs of pain are some examples of refinements.
In our laboratory, we have introduced a great number of new techniques that are commonly used in human surgery to reduce animal discomfort to an absolute minimum. Surgical procedures, for example, are performed under strictly aseptic conditions. In addition, our personnel is specially trained in pre-, intra- and post-operative nursing. By training lab technicians in proper preparation of the operating room, OP attire, hygiene and common surgical routine, we can minimize surgery time and the probability of infection. Another major refinement is the close monitoring of the anesthetized animal during surgery. By using a full-function anesthesia machine we are able to monitor not only the animal’s heart rate and temperature, but also the respiratory gases and parameters such as oxygen saturation and blood pressure, all of which provide direct indications of pain or discomfort. Finally, implants such as recording chambers and fixation devices are made exclusively of tissue-compatible materials and fitted individually to each animal to minimize skin irritation and the probability of infection.
The goal of “refinement” is also to obtain the same amount of data with fewer measurements or less invasive techniques. We achieve this by introducing new technical developments. In our laboratory, for example, we use improved microelectrodes to record neural impulses; these are even able to measure the activity of several cells at a time. Replacement
Replacement means finding alternative scientific models or methods that do not require the use of animals. The alternative methods most commonly recommended by animal research opponents are in vitro studies, microdosing, computer simulations and functional MRI