Ethics and Responsibilities
MPI-CBG research relies on different model organisms such as zebrafish, Drosophila, C. elegans, mouse, rat and ferret. While the use of animals in research is still considered indispensable, there are many ethical concerns confronting research institutes and this is particularly true for basic research. The direct use and benefit argumentation is often more difficult with basic research – the connection with diseases and therapies is often too distant to offer a direct justification for the use of model organisms. With this background in mind, the Max Planck Society (MPG) published in December 2016 the White Paper “Animal Research in the Max Planck Society” (https://www.mpg.de/10882259/MPG_Whitepaper.pdf). In the White Paper, the MPG commits itself to a number of measures to increase animal welfare, promote best practice and a culture of care for laboratory animals. The MPG adds a fourth R for Responsibility to the ‘3Rs’ principle (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) that is mandatory for the protection of animals used in research. The scientists of the MPG recognize a special responsibility to use their broad scientific expertise in order to serve animal welfare and at the same time to further enhance the quality of research. The fourth R also includes an ethical discourse conducted on a professional basis and involving all stakeholders.
Animal welfare and good scientific practice have been central goals of MPI-CBG since the founding of the institute. By continuously challenging our own standards and considering the latest findings, we constantly strive to maximize the quality of animal welfare according to the 4R principle. Some examples of our latest efforts can be found below:
- Thorough and in-depth testing of the genetic background of mice has resulted in a major reduction of mice in several projects due to better matching of experimental and control animals (significantly less breeding required to produce the necessary number of mice for experiments).
- Live animal transport is reduced by instead transporting frozen embryos or sperm. Currently 50% of all imported mice are received as frozen cells – this significantly reduces not only the transport stress for live animals but also minimizes the number of mice needed for establishing the new strain.
- Some scientific questions can be answered using alternative methods, which include, for example, computer-based models and cell cultures. It is both a legal and moral obligation to apply alternative (animal-free) methods whenever possible. MPI-CBG relies heavily on these alternative approaches before even considering using animal models. Furthermore, currently close to 30% of our animals are only used for obtaining cells and tissues for cell cultures (no experiments performed).
- Since 2017 we have been increasingly using mouth mucosal swabs instead of tail biopsies for the genotyping of mice. Mucosal swabs have the advantage of being non-invasive, therefore reducing the pain and distress caused by tail biopsies significantly.
- All husbandry and most of the technical and experimental work is performed by our well-trained BMS staff to provide the best possible care and technical expertise. Experimental procedures that cannot be easily standardized, or are a major data-producing step (such as in-utero electroporation) are performed by the research scientists themselves after intensive training.
- A centralized service via BMS management, veterinarian and animal welfare officer includes in-depth guidance for planning animal experiments with a special focus on the 3R/4R principle as well as follow up during the experimental work (veterinary and technical support).
- The BMS has established a rehoming project for all animals that are not needed for experimental work any longer and are considered fit to give to private persons. So far, all ferrets in 2017 and 2018 that have been released from experiments have successfully been rehomed as pets. In 2018, we started a similar program with rats and have successfully rehomed all live rats.
- The BMS organizes, in cooperation with Technische Universität Dresden, offer a yearly competence course for scientists and technicians (equivalent to former FELASA B), including on-site practical training throughout the year. Continuing education seminars organised in-house ensure ongoing training in the latest developments of Laboratory Animal Science.