Some 35% of all diseases are brain diseases. Nine out of ten people over the age of 80 will be confronted with a brain disorder. To help people with brain disorders, we and other scientists develop new diagnostics and therapies while improving our understanding of how the brain works.
Animal models are vital and irreplaceable for scientific progress and in combating the devastation of human neurological and psychiatric diseases, which affect more than 1 billion people worldwide, and of course also for improving veterinary health. Animal models must be used appropriately and following humane guidelines, carrying out research that maximizes scientific gain with the least amount of animal suffering.
Responsible use of animals in research
We work according the 3R principle, which stands for 'Replacement, Reduction, Refinement'
We always use alternatives to the animal test if possible such as in-vitro tests
We always use the smallest number of animals that are necessary to achieve statistically and scientifically relevant results
We always try to minimize the impact on animal wellbeing
The lab animals that we use at NERF are mice and rats. We follow all ethical regulations (European, Belgian and Flemish) with particular focus to reduce, refine, replace actions to minimize tests and do this under supervision of the ethical commission of the Animal Ethics Commission at KU Leuven.
All researchers that work with animals have had the appropriate education, including ethical training, and hold a specific certificate for working with laboratory animals. All experiments are supervised by a certified laboratory director, with the help of the Animal Welfare body of imec, affiliated to the Animal Ethics Commission at KU Leuven.
Why can't alternative methods replace animals in research?
Whenever possible, researchers do use non-animal models for research. Computer models, tissue and cell cultures, and a number of other non-animal related research methods are used in biomedical research as well.
Computer models are used to screen and determine the toxic level of a substance in the beginning of an experiment and tissue and cell cultures have become valuable additions to the array of research tools and techniques. However, animal testing remains a necessity.
For example, blindness cannot be studied in bacteria and it is not possible to study the affects of high blood pressure in tissue cultures. The living system is extremely complex. The nervous system, blood and brain chemistry, gland and organ secretions, and immunological responses are all interrelated, making it impossible to explore, explain, or predict the course of diseases or the effects of possible treatments without observing and testing the entire living system of an animal.
In the meantime, scientists continue to look for new ways to reduce the number of animals needed to obtain valid results, refine experimental techniques, and replace animals with other research methods whenever feasible.