New E-learning module stimulates refinement in animal research

The 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences has developed an E-learning module on humane endpoints in animal research and veterinary practice. This module will be integrated in the curriculum of the faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University. In addition, the module is available for everyone who works with animals, on It provides both a solid basic training on humane endpoints, and  practice opportunities with case studies. This E-learning module will contribute to refinement of animal experiments by preparing the users to make well-balanced decisions regarding animal welfare and science.

A humane endpoint can be defined as ‘the earliest indicator in an animal of (potential) pain or distress that, within the context of moral justification and scientific endpoints to be met, can be used to avoid or limit pain or distress by taking actions such as euthanasia or alleviating the pain or distress’. For animal researchers, it is often difficult to determine whether an animal has reached a humane endpoint. The E-learning module on humane endpoints provides interactive education and training on this difficult subject for both veterinarians and scientists.

Implications for veterinarians

Although the principle of humane endpoints originated in laboratory animal science, humane endpoints are also important in veterinary practice. After all, a veterinarian sometimes has to make end-of-life decisions  regarding a pet or cattle, for example. Since the E-learning module is designed to be applicable to all animal species, veterinarians as well as scientists can use it to learn about the principles of humane endpoints. In addition, the module has a designated case study for veterinarians in practice for companion animals.

Veterinary case study
Example veterinary case study

Advantages of E-learning    
Learning about humane endpoints in an E-learning environment has many advantages. First of all, it provides a safe environment to make mistakes and to get feedback on answers. Secondly, it is easy to select a topic of interest; students may either choose to learn the basics, or to go directly to the case studies. Thirdly, as the module can be completed as a self-study, this E-learning module allows students and teachers to be flexible in their education.

The module was developed in collaboration with experts from the veterinary and biomedical research field. The module was tested by students and evaluated by the Utrecht University Educational Consultancy & Professional Development. The development of the module was financed by a grant from the Veterinary Faculty Education Incentive Fund.

The Humane Endpoints website

The E-learning module is integrated in the website, and is thereby available for students, teachers, veterinarians and researchers worldwide, free of charge. The Humane Endpoints website provides information and training modules on how to recognize and apply humane endpoints in laboratory animals. The website is part of the 3Rs Database Programme, which is managed by the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences and aims to make 3Rs information available for free.