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Unit: Centre for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternative Methods to Animal Experiments (ZEBET)

The Unit 'Centre for Documentation and Evaluation of Alternative Methods to Animal Experiments' develops alternative methods based on the 3R principle, supports research projects in this field, and advises authorities on methods that can replace or reduce the number of animal experiments.

Animal experiments are needed for example in the field of basic biomedical research to understand the development of diseases, for product and chemical safety testing or the development of new drugs and therapies. Even today, many biological interrelationships are still not fully understood, as fundamental principles of life in whole organisms are based on highly complex interactions of many biological systems. Physiological and pathophysiological processes, for example, are controlled by complex actions and reactions of individual organs, cells and cellular components. For pharmacological and toxicological safety testing, the development of new drugs and therapies and for research on the development of diseases, animal experiments are necessary as they enable scientists to monitor and examine this interplay of the different biological systems in a living whole animal organism.

Directive 2010/63/EU defines as the final goal to totally resign from animal experiments. However, it is a big challenge to develop alternative methods for all of these various issues and complex methodological approaches. In its own laboratories, ZEBET therefore researches and develops alternative methods for regulatory toxicity testing and develops methods for use in basic biomedical research. To this end, ZEBET is developing of new cell culture systems which are able to model distinct processes of a living organism in vitro. As part of this process, the Unit uses modern in vitro and in silico techniques. for example for the development of organoid and organ-on-a-chip systems.

In addition to experimental research on ”Replacement”, statistical approaches are pursued in order to reduce the number of animals used to a minimum in experimental areas in which animal testing is not yet avoidable (“Reduction”).

Moreover, the Unit is responsible for tendering, review and supervision of scientific projects for the development of alternative methods to animal experiments in the field of biomedical research and regulatory toxicity testing (Bf3R research funding programme). The BfR has been supporting projects of this kind since 1990 ( untill 2015 as ZEBET research funding) with an annual budget of around 350,000 €. The call for proposals takes place every two years.

The duties of the Unit also include the provision of advice to the regional state authorities on matters connected with alternatives to animal experiments – a responsibility that was assigned to the BfR when the new regulations on the welfare of animals used in laboratory experiments in accordance with Art. 46 TierSchVersV came into effect on 13 August 2013.

The Unit also organises scientific events on a regular basis, including expert meetings, workshops and public events such as the "Bf3R Seminar" in order to advance the dialogue between the scientific community, industry, authorities, NGOs and the general public.

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