Our position on animal research and welfare
Advances in biomedical experimentation in recent decades would not have been possible without the appropriate use of animal subjects, particularly as regards the discovery and development of new therapies and diagnostic approaches in oncology and age-related diseases.
Because of this, animal welfare is one of the cornerstones of our research, in which we resort to using animal subjects only when there are no alternative methods of experimentation to address relevant scientific questions.
All of our animal research projects are supervised and evaluated by the Ethics Committee for Animal Research and Welfare, as well as the Institutional Committee for the Care and Use of Research Animals.
This is how we contribute to scientific progress while maintaining the highest, best-practice standards in animal research, always strictly following the principle of the 3 Rs: Replacement, Reduction, Refinement. We strive to replace animal experimentation with other methods, by reducing the number of animals used in our experiments to a minimum and by refining our techniques to improve their well-being.
European legislation has already assumed the goal of no longer needing to use animals for scientific research in the future. To this end, we are currently researching alternatives at CNIO that would allow for the minimisation or replacement of animals in experiments. Some of the techniques in development at CNIO make it possible to reduce the number of animals needed by tenfold or more.
Another strategy for using fewer animals is to make use of the vast amount of human data that we have been collecting for years, now stored in computer databases. The study of computational biology makes it possible to use this information, and at CNIO we are making a special effort to expand our research in this area.
Furthermore, our collaboration agreement with the Franz Weber Foundation, an international NGO for the protection of animals, envisions the implementation of a postdoctoral assistance programme called ‘Friends of CNIO-Franz Weber Foundation’. The programme’s aim will be to offer young doctors the opportunity to develop cutting edge research projects that use different techniques as an alternative to animal experimentation.
We will use animals only when there are no other alternative methods of experimentation, taking steps to ensure that animal welfare plays a central role in all procedures developed in our laboratory.
Animal Research policies
1. CNIO compliance of Spain and EU current legislation and good practices is in accordance with the European Directive 2010/63/EU, which is transposed into national legislation through the Spanish Royal Decree (RD) 53/2013 for the protection of animals used for research experimentation and other scientific purposes. Following the current regulation under the Orden ECC/566/2015, we develop training programs to ensure that CNIO staff handling animals for scientific and research purposes acquire the required knowledge as well as the proper skills and attitudes for animal care, and that all the necessary resources are allocated to properly manage animals with regards to facilities, husbandry, wellbeing, and veterinary care.
2. Transparency agreement on animal researchthe CNIO has joined the Agreement on Openness on Animal Research, promoted by the Federation of Scientific Societies in Spain (COSCE), with the collaboration of the European Association of Research Animals (EARA), and launched on 20 September 2016.
We are convinced that animal experimentation plays a fundamental role in the discovery of the underlying biological mechanisms of disease, and in the development of biomedical treatments. Without the knowledge acquired through research in animal models, we would not have advanced in the development of most of the medicines, antibiotics, vaccines, and surgical techniques that are nowadays utilized in human and veterinary medicine.
All the research activities undertaken at the CNIO have the ultimate goal of contributing to the improvement of human health and wellbeing, particularly in cancer research. A substantial part of our research requires experimentation in animals, especially mouse models. The use of genetically modified mice is crucial to unveiling how genes and genetic changes impact on the development of cancer and other aging-related diseases, which are the main focus of interest of CNIO researchers. Also, mouse models are essential for the evaluation of drug efficacy and pharmacokinetics as well as other in vivo assays that are fundamental to complement our efforts in the area of drug discovery and development. Likewise, the generation of ‘Avatar’ mice, i.e., mice that carry tumour xenografts derived directly from cancer patients, is being used as help in the selection of suitable individualized therapeutic approaches in the field of Precision Medicine.
Recapitulating as accurately as possible the human biology and disease-related mechanisms in a systemic fashion, considering the multiple factors that contribute to the complexity of cancer and aging, requires a careful in vivo approach. Animal research allows CNIO researchers to advance our understanding of human disease and to propose innovative avenues to diagnose and treat human disorders. Moreover, other experimental alternative models can be developed based on a better understanding of the biology of animal models, thus contributing to the development of non-animal and ex vivo models that can be used for basic and applied research in the future.
The welfare of animals used for research purposes is of paramount relevance for the CNIO, as it is the strict compliance with the current legislation and standards of good practices addressing the protection of the animals used for research and other scientific purposes, including education (RD 53/2013). Our aim is to achieve the highest standards in animal welfare, not only from the point of view of our moral responsibility on them, but also because we are convinced we could not achieve research excellence without it. Our experiments with animals follow all the legal requirements, and are evaluated by an Ethics Committee on Animal Experimentation that promotes the use of alternative methods, the reduction in the number of animals used, and the refinement in the experimental protocols applied. As an example, the monitoring of mouse models through non-invasive imaging technologies, allows us to reduce the number of mice used, and to refine the experimental protocols. Not a single research project requiring the use of animals could start without the appropriate and required Ethics assessment and the eventual authorization from the competent authorities.
According with the current regulation (Orden ECC/566/2015), the CNIO also ensures that the personnel involved in animal care and researchers have the adequate training and professional skills, and that all resources are allocated to properly manage animals with regards to facilities, husbandry, wellbeing, and veterinary care.
The high standards achieved by the CNIO with regards to the use and care of animals for experimentation have been recognized by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), which has granted us full accreditation in October 2016.
The CNIO currently spearheads initiatives aimed at increasing Openness on Animal Research, essentially by means of monthly guided tours offered to students of secondary schools, which include, among other departments, our Animal Facility. Likewise, the CNIO participates in the ‘Science Week in Madrid’ organized every year by the Regional Government, during which the CNIO opens its doors to the lay public to bring the research laboratories and facilities, such as the Animal Facility, closer to society. Also, the Scientific Annual Report includes a description of the Animal Facility, as well as details on different projects involving animal research.
It is our goal to continue with these activities to enhance transparency with regards to our Animal Research and to take on new actions to keep the scientific community and the general public informed of the different improvements in procedures and good practices involving animal experimentation. The CNIO is also committed to further engaging the public directly, to improving the dissemination of information regarding animal research, and to monitoring our progress towards complying with the AAALAC International accreditation program and with the Agreement on Openness of Animal Research.
3. ARRIVE guidelines for reporting animal research – we encourage our researchers to meet the ARRIVE guidelinesoriginally published in PLoS Biology and developed by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), which aim to improve the reporting of research describing animal research.
AAALAC International Accreditation Program
The private, non-profit organization AAALAC (Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International) promotes the compassionate treatment of animals for research purposes and endorses their use to advance science and medicine when other alternatives do not exist.
The CNIO has earned accreditation through the AAALAC International Accreditation Program in October 2016, a recognition shared by more than 950 institutions in 41 countries that have demonstrated their commitment to responsible animal welfare and good science, and that meet or exceed AAALAC standards. This accreditation is a voluntary process through which institutions show their willingness to not only comply with the standards established by the legislation but to also exert an additional effort to achieve excellence in animal care and use. AAALAC International offers the only international accreditation for this purpose, being recognized worldwide as a program of excellence and good science of the highest quality that facilitates collaboration with other institutions around the globe and recruitment of international talent.