Any experiments involving animals are carried out as humanely as possible. This means that every effort is made to replace, reduce and refine the use of animal testing, principles known as the 3 Rs for short. Huge progress has been made in recent years: more and more testing can be carried out using fewer laboratory animals, or no animals at all, but it is not yet possible to use alternatives in all research.

Pioneering role

Utrecht University plays a leading role in the Netherlands concerning the use of alternatives to laboratory animals. The first chair in Laboratory Animal Science in the Netherlands was established in Utrecht, back in 1983. This is now the chair of Animal Welfare and Laboratory Animal Science.

Moreover, Utrecht University established the country's first chair in Alternatives to Animal Testing in 2000, and from 2008 to 2014 it was home to a chair in Alternatives to Animal Testing in Toxicological Risk Assessment.

The activities and results relating to alternatives are actively disseminated, so they can be used by others and where appropriate incorporated in guidelines. Despite all the developments around the 3 Rs, it is not realistic to expect that it will be possible to conduct all biomedical research without using laboratory animals in the near future.

The 3 Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement

When planning and performing animal experimentation, Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht do their utmost to follow the principle of the 3 Rs:

  • Replacement: the experiment on animals is replaced by an alternative technique that does not use animals.
  • Reduction: the number of animals used per experiment is reduced as far as possible.
  • Refinement: the suffering (pain/discomfort) caused to laboratory animals is reduced as far as possible, before, during and after testing.

The development and application of the 3 R methods has led to great improvements in the past 35 years. The use of laboratory animals has decreased, the suffering caused to laboratory animals has been reduced, the welfare of the animals has improved and the use of alternative techniques has increased.

In January 2004 the department of Animals in Science & Society was established within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This knowledge centre contributes to animal welfare through research, education and communication. It also houses the Utrecht Life Sciences 3R Centre, which provides information about alternatives.