Animal protection in research
Basic research in biomedical sciences plays an integral role at the University of Bayreuth. At this time, animal testing cannot yet be given up completely. All researchers at the University of Bayreuth must behave with respect regarding the task of finding a balance between two ethical duties: the duty to apply one’s own knowledge and abilities to reduce human and animal suffering, and the duty not to impose avoidable suffering on other living beings.
In 2010, the European Parliament issued Directives 2010/63/EU protecting animals used for scientific purposes in order to set high bio-ethical standards for experimental research on animals. In 2013, Germany’s Animal Welfare Act was amended to conform to the European guidelines. It emphasizes three guiding principles ("The Three Rs”) for ensuring animal protection in research:
1. reduction of the number of animals in an experiment,
2. refinement of animal test methods in order to minimize suffering and improve the well-being of the animals, and
3. development of replacement methods for animal testing.
All examinations or procedure carried out on animals which could involve pain, suffering, or distress count as animal testing. They are permitted in research only if there is no other way to arrive at new knowledge. Gaining new knowledge is thus legally required to justify research on animals. The EU guidelines go one step further than this interpretation, stipulating that any process in which animals are used in science requires prior approval.
The Animal Welfare Act requires that animal testing only be carried out if, for instance, it is indispensable for conducting basic research and it is ethically defensible in consideration of the envisaged findings. Scientific and medical breakthroughs would be unimaginable without the findings that result from basic research. Findings from animal testing serve as an indispensable basis for understanding illnesses and their treatment. In basic research in biomedical sciences, animal testing helps clarify previously unknown basic biological interrelationships and related disorders in humans and animals.
Even the most modern in-vitro processes of cell or tissue cultures are unsuitable for investigating organisms’ physiological processes in which different tissues or organs interact with one another and regulate complex processes such as behaviour or development. Findings from animal testing thus remain essential in certain fields of basic research.
As a matter of principle, animal testing always requires prior approval by the relevant authority. The request must include a comprehensive scientific rationale for the planned experiment and evidence that the space, technical equipment, and personnel required for successful completion of the project are available. Naturally, this is also the case at the University of Bayreuth. Approved animal testing is conducted by cautious, well-trained scientists and animal keepers who have been sensitized to the issues involved. German law stipulates precisely the required status of training and expertise for one to be permitted to conduct experiments on or with animals.
Our animal tests are precisely documented and monitored by the relevant authorities. At the University of Bayreuth itself, they are internally monitored by the Animal Testing Commissioners, who are generally qualified veterinarians. They review and respond to the animal testing requests. They also advise the researchers and ensure that the Principle of Three Rs is being properly implemented on campus. Animal Testing Commissioners act independently, and they also provide veterinary care for the animals. In their activities, they are supported by an Animal Welfare Board, which includes scientific staff and animal keepers.
„Tierversuche verstehen“ is an initiative of the German scientific community, coordinated by the Alliance of Science Organizations. It provides comprehensive, up-to-date and fact-based information about animal experiments at publicly funded research institutions. "Understanding animal experiments" promotes dialog between science and the public and contributes to an objective discussion about animal experiments.
News with regard to animal research
Statement concerning the press release "Heart of Stone" by Doctors Against Animal Experiments, dated 27 February 2023
1. Animal experiments at the University of Bayreuth
The University of Bayreuth takes the requirements of animal welfare very seriously. The scientists working in research and teaching at the University of Bayreuth as well as all its employees are committed to animal welfare and treat animals as living beings responsibly. In this context, the University of Bayreuth draws particular attention to the brochure "Animal Experiments in Research" published by the German Research Foundation (DFG), which provides an excellent summary of the scientific, social and ethical aspects of this topic. The University of Bayreuth agrees with the arguments and recommendations contained therein regarding the handling of animals in science. The document is available to the public for download at: https://www.dfg.de/download/pdf/dfg_im_profil/geschaeftsstelle/publikationen/160201_tierversuche_forschung_de.pdf
The animal experiments carried out by the University of Bayreuth’s Animal Physiology research group, which are the subject of "Doctors Against Animal Experiments", are in line with the recommendations presented here - especially with regard to the respectful treatment of animal welfare - and do not contradict them in any way. If "Doctors Against Animal Experiments" tries to create the impression in today's press release that these animal experiments are "absurd and cruel", this is not substantiated in the matter. It is regrettable that "Doctors Against Animal Experiments" fails to recognise the potential human medical benefit of these experiments and falsely creates the impression that the Chair of Animal Physiology has inflicted severe suffering on animals - and without any discernible scientific purpose.
2. Biological questions with reference to human medicine
For a long time, it has been an unsolved mystery in basic biological research why strong-electric fish - for example, trembling catfish - do not harm themselves with their discharges. This question was the focus of animal experiments carried out by the Animal Physiology research group. It is a question of basic biological research, but at the same time it has relevance for human medicine. For if we know how the muscles of highly electric fish are protected against electric shocks, these findings will help answer the question of how human heart muscles can be strengthened. Heart disorders are among the leading causes of death in humans. Contrary to what "Doctors Against Animal Experiments" tries to suggest on its website www.herz-aus-stein.de, the Chair of Animal Physiology did not artificially "construct" an application reference afterwards. Rather, Prof. Schuster and his team had precisely this human medical application in mind from the outset in their experiments on trembling catfish and goldfish.
3. Experiments on trembling catfish: goldfish as comparison group
The experiments focused on trembling catfish as strong-electric fish. However, in order to find out experimentally how the muscles of strong-electric fish are protected against electric shocks, it is necessary to compare them with other fish that do not have this protection. Therefore, goldfish were chosen as a comparison group. The experiments on goldfish were - contrary to what the press release of "Doctors Against Animal Experiments" might suggest - not an end in itself, but served to gain knowledge about the trembling catfish.
4. Consequences and framework of the experiments:
The goldfish survived all the tests. They all resumed breathing, ate normally and continued to grow. They did not suffer any adverse effects. In addition, the Animal Physiology research group made sure that the fish did not suffer.
- The goldfish were protected from the tremor catfish, which could otherwise have eaten them.
- The tests were carried out with so-called defensive discharges, which, unlike prey-catching discharges, are definitely not lethal.
- For the experiments, an electrofishing device was used that is regularly used in environmental protection for stocktaking of fish. Precisely because the device is used in nature conservation, there is extensive background knowledge about it.
The research papers and findings are available to the public at any time https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.239855. This is an "open access2 publication".