Award for animal care technicians working to reduce surplus laboratory animal numbers

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From left to right: Lothar Jäckel, Lisa Schneider, Angelika Offinger, Emilia Ter
From left to right: Lothar Jäckel, Lisa Schneider, Angelika Offinger, Emilia Terszowska, Sabine Eckervogt, Yasmin Müller- Quijada und Michel Brühlhart. Not in the picture: Vanessa Schull, Johann Himber, Brice Herbrecht und Daniel- Uwe Zimmer. (Bild: Rolf Zeller)
The animal caretakers at the Department of Biomedicine at the Mattenstrasse site have succeeded in significantly reducing the number of surplus laboratory animals. After helping to devise breeding programs, raising awareness and improving the culture of communication between researchers and the animal facility, the team has now received the Swiss 3RCC Culture of Care Award in recognition of this successful work.

The breeding process inevitably results in laboratory animals that can never be used for experimental research due to complex breeding programs and laws of genetics that require a certain number of breeding animals. Based on the 3R principle of "replacement, reduction and refinement" , however, researchers are obliged to reduce the number of laboratory animals as far as possible. This includes improved breeding strategies, cryopreservation of animal lines not currently needed, and close coordination with other researchers concerning the use of the animals.

Seeing the need for action, Angelika Offinger, head of the animal facility at the Department of Biomedicine (DBM) Mattenstrasse site, started working with her team one year ago to devise ways to reduce the number of breeding animals at the facility. "For animal caretakers, the humane killing of surplus animals is always difficult," says Dr. Anne Zintzsch, animal welfare officer at the University of Basel.

Optimising breeding strategies

Offinger analyzed the number of animals bred at her facility in relation to the number actually used in experiments and found that breeding strategies could be optimized to reduce the number of surplus animals. Armed with statistics and suggestions for alternative approaches, she sought dialog with the researchers responsible.

"It took a lot of discussion and dedication, as well as quite a bit of persistence on the part of the animal care team as a whole to convince those responsible of the measures we were proposing," explains Dr. Zintzsch.

The project was launched in November 2022 and soon produced positive results, reducing the number of surplus animals by between 35% and 50% depending on the breeding line. The animal care technicians also introduced a series of seminars to improve the contact and communication between animal care and research at the site. The researchers presented their scientific findings in six seminars that helped to create a better understanding of the need for animal experiments.

Win-win-win for research, animal care and animal welfare

"The initiative has been a great success," says Dr. Zintzsch. "Not only has the number of surplus animals been reduced, but the respect shown by both sides has also been enhanced. The efforts have therefore led to a real win-win-win situation - for research, animal care and animal welfare." As an animal welfare officer, Dr. Zintzsch hopes that the efforts made at the DBM will also serve as a model for other parts of the University of Basel and beyond.

In recognition of these efforts, the Swiss 3R Competence Centre 3RCC has presented the DBM’s team of animal caretakers with the Culture of Care Award. In addition, the project also serves as a good example of how the Culture of Care Charter recently signed by the University of Basel is being put into practice.