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Severity assessment from an animal's point of view


This third-party funded project is conducted in the framework of the BfR research programme on alternatives to animal experiments

Support code of the DFG: LE2356/5-1

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Project description:

Severity assessment in animal experimentation is a complex biomedical and ethical issue largely biased by uncertainty. The interpretation of physiological and behavioural measures in relation to animal welfare is difficult and often reflects an educated gut feeling rather than scientifically sound conclusions. It is thus of utmost importance to include the perspective of the animals themselves in severity assessment. Choice and preference tests are a straight forward approach in asking the appraisal of different goods. However, preference for one good over another in itself does not necessarily indicate suffering if access to the preferred good is denied. Nor can the overall severity of an experimental measurement be derived solely from the fact that the animal - if given the choice - would rather not participate in such a procedure. In order to gain a better understanding of the valence of choices made there is a demand for more sophisticated preference tests which allow the estimation of the strength of each respective preference. A compelling approach to estimate the value of the choices made is to raise costs and compare the prices the animals are willing to pay. Using choice tests along with consumer demand theory, mice will be "asked" to rate the severity of experimental procedures themselves. Animals usually cannot choose to avoid experimental procedures and such experiences leave traces in internal emotional states. Although emotional states are usually not obvious to others, it has been demonstrated that they can be revealed using tests of cognitive bias. In brief, these tests shed light on the internal emotional state of an animal and ask if future expectations are "optimistic" or "pessimistic". Advancing these methods on testing cognitive bias in mice will allow a comprehensive severity assessment taking internal emotional states into account. Thus the set of measures proposed here will include the animal's point of view in severity assessment with regard to their preference and valence of future expectations.

Project partners:

  • Hannover Medical School, Germany
  • University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Universitätsklinikum Aachen, Germany
  • German Primate Center, Germany
  • Central Institute of Mental Health Mannheim, Germany
  • Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology, Germany
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Universität Hannover, Germany
  • Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany
  • University of Rostock, Germany


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