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Support in the protection of laboratory animals: Better results with fewer animals and less suffering

24/2017, 23.06.2017

Newly created professorship by BfR and Freie Universität Berlin strengthening the competence area "Reduction of stress and improvement of living conditions" at the German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R)

Once experiments with animals have been approved, the suffering, pain and number of animals required for each test must be reduced to the greatest possible extent without jeopardising the validity of the experimental results. The German Centre for the Protection of Laboratory Animals (Bf3R), whose tasks are performed by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), is set to make a considerable contribution towards achieving this goal. "That was the reason why we established the competence area "Reduction of severity and improvement of the living conditions of laboratory animals," explains BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel on the occasion of the appointment of Prof. Dr. Lars Lewejohann to the chair for "Animal Welfare with Focus on Refinement in Laboratory Animal Science". The field of research of the competence area "Reduction of severity and improvement of living conditions of laboratory animals" in which Professor Lewejohann works comprises all measures to reduce the burden on laboratory animals. Objective criteria are also determined to estimate the distress to which animals are exposed during experiments.

Refinement as a whole has the aim of improving those animal experiments which cannot be replaced by alternative methods. Refinement in this case means an improvement of the conditions in which animals are kept and to which they are subjected during experiments on the one hand, as well as an improvement of the test design on the other. Only experiments whose results are valid in compliance with high scientific standards justify the use of animals in achieving results.

As part of the justification process of substantiated animal experiments, the scientists have to assess the severity of the experiment. However, there are currently only a few scientifically founded criteria for making this estimation.

The objective of a current BfR research project is to establish by scientific means new criteria to estimate the burden placed on laboratory animals. The basis of these criteria is formed by new ethological findings. To this end, the scientists conduct choice tests in which the animals evaluate "laboratory mouse-relevant" parameters by themselves. They can choose between different types of food or different bedding material, for example. In other experiments, it is measured on the basis of the task performed in the form of lever pressing how important certain resources such as nest material are to the animals. Conclusions about animal welfare can be drawn from both parameters. By linking many processes of this kind, a yardstick is then prepared which should make it possible in future to replace the subjective (gut) feeling when stating the possible level of distress with more objective, observable and measurable parameters.

Professor Lars Lewejohann conducted biological research at the University of Münster regarding "Refinement" using methods from behavioural biology with different strains of mice. In particular automated data recording methods and studies on the reproducibility of behavioural tests were of significance for refinement in the course of this research. In addition to heading a unit at the BfR, Lars Lewejohann will be passing on his knowledge and new findings to undergraduate and postgraduate students at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Freie Universität Berlin in his capacity as professor for "Animal Welfare and Refinement".

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

The BfR is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, the institute has published a jubilee brochure (in German) which can be downloaded or ordered free of charge at

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.


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