Swiss voters will cast their ballots February 13, 2022, on a federal popular initiative to completely ban the use of living animals in scientific research. This is a measure that a vast range of stakeholders—from the Swiss parliament, businesses, and university researchers, to scientists at the AO Research Institute Davos (ARI)—agree is too extreme.
Animal experiments are permitted in Switzerland, as they are in many other countries. They are used in the development of drugs and therapies that offer better treatment of both human and animal diseases.
The AO has long been transparent about its position on animal research: With the mission of promoting excellence in patient care and outcomes in trauma and musculoskeletal disorders, the AO believes that new treatments can only be achieved through sound preclinical research and development (exploratory and translational). Research involving animals has contributed to the AO’s many historic breakthroughs in the treatment of musculoskeletal trauma for human and animal patients.
Care, caution, and respect
ARI scientists say that while the AO uses alternatives to animals whenever possible in its development of new treatments, the reality is that these methods cannot fully replace the use of animals in research into the multifactorial disorders of the musculoskeletal system—and regulatory bodies require research with animals to ensure that new treatments are safe for human use.
“The AO, whenever possible uses other means to develop new treatments that do not involve animals (in silico, in vitro and ex vivo), but there is a need to use animals in preclinical research before treatments can be applied to both humans and animals. We do this with care, caution, and respect, minimizing the burden on the animals,” says ARI Director Prof R Geoff Richards, emphasizing that the AO is committed to meeting the highest standards of quality in research.
The 3-R principle—replacement, reduction, and refinement—are at the heart of the AO’s approach to animal research. In an effort to replace research using animals, alternative methods are always applied first; these methods include cell and organ cultures using simulating bioreactor models, computer simulation models (finite elements), and cadaveric bone specimens. To reduce the number of animals used in research, ARI uses standardized models and monitoring of the same animals over time, for example employing computed tomography (CT) in combination with the latest imaging and processing. Further, ARI takes great care to refine all research protocols to reduce the stress, pain, and discomfort of research animals to an absolute minimum; a team of dedicated, specialized veterinarians and animal caregivers look after the animals at ARI.
Indeed, the AO has made remarkable strides in reducing the burden of research on animals and in developing and using alternative methods, says Dr med vet Stephan Zeiter, ARI Preclinical Services Program manager.
“In 2000, animals were involved in about 70–80 percent of our research at ARI; now it’s about 30 percent. That’s because we do a lot more screens in the laboratory—biomechanical testing, modeling, cell culture and bioreactors, for example—before a new treatment is ever tested on animals,” adds Prof Martin Stoddart, principal scientist and leader of the institute’s Regenerative Orthopaedics program.