Animals in research, a public encounter to take stock of the situation


Institutional Communication Service

18 September 2023

In Switzerland, animal experiments can be conducted if alternative methods are not available and after careful analysis of benefits and adverse effects. In 2021, the Federal Council launched the National Research Programme PNR 79 "Advancing 3R - Animals, Research and Society". The programme is oriented on the principle of the 3Rs: Replace, Reduce, Refine. What exactly is it, and where do we stand? This was discussed at a public event held on the fringe of the Swiss 3Rs Days on the morning of Monday, 18 September, at the Campus East Lugano. Some 80 participants, including students from two classes of Liceo Lugano 2 high school.

After a video welcome by Prof. Luisa Lambertini, Dr Melania Osto (IRB, USI) gave an extensive overview of animal experiments in Ticino, providing the most up-to-date data on how many and which animals are used in research in Ticino and Switzerland, for which purposes the experiments are carried out, and the authorisation process. Dr Valentina Mercaldo from the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Lausanne then explained the 3R principle in depth, bringing numerous examples of replacement, reduction and refinement to the audience. The first part of the morning concluded with a talk by Prof. Matteo Moretti (USI, EOC), who illustrated the contribution of Southern Switzerland to the 3Rs, presenting in particular the activities of the Laboratory of Technologies for Regenerative Medicine (LRT-EOC). The laboratory's research aims to develop 3D in vitro models that replicate the structure and function of human tissues, with the ultimate aim of reducing/replacing animal tests.

Later, Dr Gianni Dal Negro (veterinarian and toxicologist of the Italian Association for Laboratory Animal Science) discussed the state of the art of alternative methods, also highlighting their limitations. Substitution remains the exception, not the rule, and validated alternative methods are limited. This means that the use of animals in research cannot (yet) be avoided. There is great interest in alternative methods, but given the uneven pace of scientific and technological progress, it isn't easy to predict when it will be possible to replace laboratory animals completely. 

The morning session moderated by Dr Giovanni Pellegri (L'ideatorio, USI) continued with a round table discussion in which the high school students and the audience engaged in dialogue with three experts: Prof. Giuseppe Bertoni (Institute of Virology and Immunology, Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Bern and President of the Cantonal Commission for Animal Experiments, Canton Ticino), Prof. Santiago F. González (Group Leader, IRB) and Prof. Roberto Malacrida of the Sasso Corbaro Foundation. The conclusions were entrusted to Prof. Greta Guarda, Vice-Dean of USI Faculty of Biomedical Sciences.

The event was also an opportunity to present for the first time the dissemination video by Tommaso Virgilio, a researcher at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), which won the Animal Research Tomorrow Awards for Science Communication conferred by Animal Research Tomorrow (ART), an association that promotes ethically responsible and cutting-edge research with animals and proactive science communication.

The video is available below.

Research and animals, why?