"Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine course fast on its way to being laboratory animal free"

Universities and UMCs present target image towards laboratory animal-free innovations in academic education

Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) and the Dutch Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) jointly present a target for laboratory animal-free innovation in academic education. The social debate on the use of animal testing has long been in flux. With the target image, universities and academic medical centres are making their contribution to this discussion. The starting point is that education, especially for future researchers, should pay more attention to animal-free innovations and a reduction in the use of laboratory animals. Utrecht University's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine wants to take the lead in this.

Animal experiments take place in various fields, such as (bio)medical, biological and neuropsychological sciences and veterinary medicine. They are necessary to gain (more) knowledge and learn practical skills or new surgical techniques. We also sometimes use laboratory animals in education, and that too counts as an animal experiment, although it is not an experiment. In undergraduate, master's and postgraduate education in the Netherlands, a total of some nine thousand such animal experiments are carried out each year.

Early exposure to laboratory animal-free methods

UNL and NFU aim to reduce laboratory animal use in undergraduate and graduate education and postgraduate continuing education for professionals, while maintaining the quality of education and continuing education. If a new generation of researchers is exposed to laboratory animal-free innovations and opportunities early on in their training, this is likely to carry over into their later working lives.

"Much of what is in the target image we are already putting into practice at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine", says Daniela Salvatori, Professor of Anatomy and Physiology and chair of the working group that helped draft the target image. "Animal welfare and innovations in education are very important to us. We want to train excellent veterinarians, but use virtual reality, plastinates and other simulation models of animals whenever possible." In fact, the faculty is working on a new skills lab (training lab) that will be central to the faculty and where students can safely practice their skills.

Laboratory animals no longer golden standard

The target document tries to change the idea that laboratory animals are the golden standard for education. "The driving force should be to look at the learning objectives and then choose the most appropriate training method. This calls for a new way of thinking, which is now also happening in research. We should stop choosing research methods based on tradition. The research question should come first."

Structural embedding in education

The main challenge is to structurally embed laboratory animal-free methods in education. "We need to research the educational outcomes of the different methods. Choose the method that produces the best educational outcomes against the learning objectives of each course."

One of the aims of the target vision is to establish teacher communities at local, national and international levels. There, teachers can create, exchange and evaluate laboratory animal-free innovations in education. Salvatori: "Many new laboratory animal-free teaching forms and innovations are already being developed today with great potential: (digital) simulations and virtual reality, for example, provide a safe and appropriate learning environment. But new innovations that are already available are still insufficiently used in practice. It seems that where traditional laboratory animal use persists, this is mostly due to uncertainty about the educational effectiveness of innovations and lack of familiarity with existing resources and tools."

Transition to Animal-free Innovations

Since 2019, Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) and the Dutch Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) have been partners in the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality's (LNV) Transition Animal-free Innovation (TPI) programme. TPI Utrecht, a collaboration of Utrecht University, UMC Utrecht and Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, wants to join forces and is happy to invite other partners in the Utrecht Science Park to join.