EARA has responded to a call by the Dutch Science Minister for the Biomedical Primate Research Centre (BPRC), in the Netherlands, an EARA member, to draw up a proposal, by the beginning of next year, to reduce the number of experiments with no-human primates (NHP) by up to 40%.
Ahead of a debate, which took place in the Netherlands House of Representatives earlier this month, EARA wrote to Ingrid van Engelshoven, Minister of Education, Culture and Science and Carola Schouten, Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, urging them not to set an artificial limit on the number of NHP used in research.
The letter, written by EARA, said that any reduction was “highly likely to severely limit the progress that can be made in both fundamental research and the development of innovative medicines and treatments for life-threatening diseases and infectious disease control”.
Currently the main areas of primate study are infectious diseases, neuroscience and fertility and foetal research. Primates are an important model for the development of vaccines and treatments for HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Zika and malaria and for investigations into treatments for conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to Schizophrenia. They are also used in safety testing for new medicines and vaccines.
Presently, the use of animals in research, especially NHP, is highly regulated and under EU Directive 2010/63 no animal can be used if there is any practical alternative method. The Scientific Committee on Health Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) confirmed in its 2017 updated opinion, the continued need and benefit of the use of NHP in research, and stated, “the current state of knowledge does not permit to propose a timetable for phasing-out the use of NHP in Europe”.
The letter also explains that research primates continue to be used in relatively small numbers (currently 0.05% of all research animal used in the EU) but they have made an extremely important contribution to many significant medical advances, for example the polio vaccine, life support systems for premature babies and deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s Disease.
EARA Executive Director, Kirk Leech, said: “BPRC carries out essential research on diseases such as AIDS, malaria and MS and we are working together with it to ensure its message is heard and understood by the Dutch government.”
The letter went on to say: “The research community is fully committed to the 3Rs principles: replacement; reduction; and refinement and we support the minister’s call for greater sharing of data in research with laboratory animals, including the publishing negative results, which is in line with the sector’s own desire for greater transparency and openness.
“The sector actively seeks opportunities to replace animal studies with alternative methods, to design studies that enable us to reduce the number of animals needed to obtain a scientifically valid result and to refine studies to minimise pain and distress to the animals involved. This has already led to a significant reduction in the numbers of animals used, of all species, in recent years.”