Animal experimentation: back to the pre-Covid situation

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Fabrice Ducrest, UNIL
Fabrice Ducrest, UNIL

In line with federal figures, animal experimentation at UNIL-CHUV has risen by 4% in 2022. This slight increase is due to the increased use of zebrafish, the boom in cancer research and, above all, the post-Covid catch-up. An update from Laure Seriot, Director of Animal Experimentation at UNIL-CHUV.

The Swiss Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary Affairs (FVOV) has published the 2022 figures for animal experimentation. The use of animals in research at the University of Lausanne and the CHUV increased by only 4% on the previous year. According to the Director of Animal Experimentation (DEA) at UNIL and CHUV, this slight increase is essentially due to a post-Covid catch-up. Our figures are relatively similar to those for 2019", comments Laure Seriot. And in broad terms, ’our situation is consistent with what is happening at federal level’, namely a general increase of 2%. In all, 53,573 animals were used last year for UNIL-CHUV experiments, 90% of them mice. Only a few large animals were used (four pigs and three rabbits). As for the use of rats, this is also on the decline, ’ it has halved since 2015 ’, notes the vet.

As in the rest of the country, the overall increase corresponds to a sharp rise in the use of zebrafish, a rapidly expanding experimental model. In the UNIL-CHUV setting, the use of zebrafish has increased almost 40-fold since 2021," notes the veterinarian. But it has also spread throughout Switzerland, particularly to private institutes. Within the UNIL-CHUV framework, the 4% increase is also largely due to the growth in cancer research, notably linked to the expansion of Ludwig Cancer Research (Institut Ludwig pour la recherche sur le cancer, LICR). Half of our research projects now focus on this theme," explains Laure Seriot, "and 46% of the animals used in 2022 were used for oncology research. ’

Changing the way we count

While the OSAV notes an increase of almost 5% in degree 3 experiments at federal level, i.e. those considered ’more restrictive’ for the animal, the figures for the University of Lausanne-CHUV are down 8.8% on the previous year, with 4,770 animals used for this type of experiment. However, there has been an increase in the number of degree 0 and 2 tests," emphasizes the director.

If the figures for degree 3 experiments are still significantly higher than before 2018, the OSAV explains the cause: a change in the directive, as a result of which some experiments have been assigned a higher degree of seriousness than before. At the University of Lausanne, we had relatively stable figures until 2018, but with this change in the way of counting, we saw a very sharp increase from 2019 to 2021", notes Laure Seriot.

The 3Rs in practice

As a founding member of the 3R Competence Center, which aims to Reduce, Replace and Refine animal experimentation (3R) at federal level, the University of Lausanne is very seriously committed to implementing such measures. In addition to researching and developing alternative models, such as the use of fish, invertebrates (drosophila or fruit flies, for example) or human organoids (3D structures developed from human cells), our scientists are working to reduce the use of animals as much as possible. For example, "surgeons now use a simulation platform to train themselves, replacing animal tissue", explains Laure Seriot. As for the animals used, "we optimize the amount of information they can provide us with, in particular by following the same animal throughout its life". Housing conditions have also evolved, as have daily practices. Monitored by animal janitors, mice now benefit from shelters, small tunnels and nest-building frisks; their environment has thus been enriched compared with previous conditions. Scientists are also being trained in the gentle handling of animals," explains Laure Seriot. In particular, the Faculty of Biology and Medicine is in the process of setting up a 3R prize, which will be awarded for the first time in June 2024, to encourage and make even more scientists aware of the different models to be used to address biomedical issues.

Find out more about the 2022 figures for animal experimentation directly on the website of the University of Lausanne’s Faculty of Biology and Medicine.