Animal experimentation: are we allowed to do that? In this thematic portal, researchers of the Swiss Laboratory Animal Science Association give answers to frequently asked questions.

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What is the 3Rs principle?

The 3Rs principle is the basis on which animal experiments are carried out in Switzerland today. The 3Rs mean Replace, Reduce, Refine, and stand for the responsible use of animal experiments. The aim is to replace animal experiments wherever possible while reducing the number of animals to a minimum and only using the necessary number of animals. If experiments cannot be avoided, care must be taken to ensure that the animals are subjected to as little constraint as possible during an experiment.

Replace: The replacement of an animal experiment if suitable alternative methods are available.

Reduce: The reduction of animal experiments and the number of animals used. The decisive factor here is to use enough animals to make a statistically reliable statement.

Refine: The optimisation of the methods and the handling of the animals during the experiments and in the husbandry, so that the animals are subjected to as little constraint as possible.

All three pillars within the 3Rs principle are equally important. Equal attention should be paid to reducing constraints, as well as to using or developing replacement methods. Anyone who works or conducts research using laboratory animals is legally obliged to observe and comply with the 3Rs principle. This is checked by the competent authorities as part of each application for an animal experiment and is an integral part of a license. In Switzerland, the Swiss 3R Competence Centre promotes the application of the 3Rs principle in biomedical research and training.

There are other Rs that are also important in the field of animal experimentation:

  • Reproducibility: As a matter of principle, test results must be reproducible.
  • Relevance: This concerns the transferability of animal tests. For example, if only one sex is used in animal experiments, usually male animals, are the results transferable to the other sex?
  • Responsibility: This relates to the responsibility of any persons involved in the experiment for the well-being of the animals and for the proper conduct of the experiment.
  • Respect: This refers to the respect anyone involved in the experiment is required to show for the creatures involved.