Complex diseases, such as diseases of the nervous system or the immune system, metabolic diseases including diabetes or cancers can only be understood in the intricate interplay of different organs and signaling pathways. Depending on the specific research question, researchers must decide which methods and which organisms they work with. In research involving animals, the University of Basel mainly experiments with rodents and fish, but also with other species such as African clawed frogs, fruit flies or nematodes.
When conducting animal experiments, researchers at the University of Basel are committed to leading animal welfare and ethical standards and to applying and promoting the 3R principles: Reduce, Refine, Replace. Accordingly, the University of Basel has procedures, structures, and committees in place to enforce the respective legal regulations and internal directives.
The University of Basel adheres without restriction to the principles on animal experimental research adopted by swissuniversities (CRUS 2013). The principles are based on the Basel Declaration, which aims to ensure that ethical principles are implemented worldwide in biomedical research involving animals. Through open and transparent information, trust in biomedical animal research shall be strengthened.
Legal framework and approval procedure
Research in Switzerland is subject to one of the strictest animal protection legislations in the world. The Swiss Animal Welfare Act (AniWA) defines what is considered an animal experiment and to which species it applies. It is implemented by the Animal Welfare Ordinance (TSchV) and the Animal Experimentation Ordinance. These regulate the handling of laboratory animals in breeding, husbandry, and experimentation, as well as the requirements for the qualification and further training of the relevant staff. All persons involved in animal experiments and animal care must have the appropriate professional training and must be approved by the cantonal veterinary office before taking up their work. In addition, they are obliged to undergo further training on a regular basis. The contents of the training and further education are defined in detail in the Animal Welfare Training Ordinance (AWTO).
The authorization procedure for animal experiments aims to limit animal experiments to the indispensable, minimal extent. Every animal experiment, i.e. every measure in which live animals are involved, for example testing of a scientific hypothesis, must therefore be justified in detail and approved in advance. The approval procedure ensures that an ethical evaluation in the form of a «weighing of interests» is carried out for each proposed animal experiment.
The procedure evaluates in particular (1) that the experiment is suitable and necessary to achieve the desired experimental objective and (2) justifies that the expected gain in knowledge (and the associated legitimate interest to society) appears to be so important that it outweighs the expected harm to the animals. An application for animal experiments also must justify why an experiment is not feasible using other approaches (Replace), whether it could involve fewer animals (Reduce), or whether it could use less harmful methods (Refine). In addition, applications for animal experiments describe in detail the experimental objectives, the experimental set-up, and appropriate measures to minimize the distress for the animals.
Applications are reviewed by the cantonal veterinary office with the involvement of the cantonal animal experimentation committee, an expert body in which delegates from animal protection organizations are represented as well. Animal experimentation licenses are issued by the veterinary office, sometimes with additional restrictions or requirements, and are valid for a maximum of three years.
In regular unannounced inspections at our animal facilities, the cantonal veterinary office and representatives of the cantonal animal experimentation committee check whether the animal experiments are carried out in accordance with the regulations and the respective animal experimentation license.
Organization of animal experimentation at the University of Basel
Each individual researcher, the professional staff of the animal facilities and the Animal Welfare Officers are responsible for ensuring animal welfare in our facilities and for compliance with internal regulations and legal requirements.
The animal facilities team, led by a veterinarian, consists of approximately 50 trained animal caretakers, working in one of our five facilities. Their responsibilities primarily include the husbandry, care and health monitoring of animals on seven days a week, as well as regular exchange with researchers on animal health status. In addition, the animal facility staff is responsible for the import and export of laboratory animals as well as for all administrative matters related to animal husbandry, breeding, and the implementation of legal regulations.
The Animal Welfare Officers act as interface between the Cantonal Veterinary Office and the researchers. They ensure compliance with legal requirements and internal regulations and advise researchers on experimental design and implementation. The officers also conduct internal audits. They assist researchers in preparing applications for animal experiments and in reporting tasks, with a particular focus on the selection of appropriate anesthesia and analgesia protocols, experimental monitoring and documentation, and the definition of humane endpoints in the experiments.
The 3R Coordinator at the University of Basel is responsible for the implementation of programs, communication, and teaching in the field of the 3R principles. Her responsibility is to facilitate the implementation of the 3R principles in research, breeding, and husbandry of experimental animals at the University of Basel. As a member of the Executive Board of the Swiss 3R Competence Center, the 3R Coordinator is involved in the development of the Federal 3RCC policies and in 3R-related activities in research, communication, and education throughout Switzerland.
The Center for Transgenic Models (CTM Basel) is providing researchers at the University of Basel access to the latest transgenic and assisted reproduction technologies and the related know-how. It offers a wide variety of standard techniques. Their own research and development focusses on devising novel gene delivery techniques while at the same time implementing the 3R principles for responsible animal experimentation.
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