Non-human primates in research and safety testing
6. How could the welfare of primates used in laboratories be improved?
The SCHER opinion states:
New standards of care, treatment and living conditions are needed
Source: Jorge Vicente
Refinement encompasses not only causing the minimum level of suffering consistent with obtaining the scientific objective, but also promoting the welfare of animals whenever possible.
- Council of Europe revised Appendix A of ETS 123 of the European Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals used for Experimental and other Scientific Purposes on which Commission Recommendation 2007/526/EC is based, sets down new standards for husbandry in NHP studies that have been recommended for adoption in the EU (Revised Directive 86/609/EEC). Refinements in the housing and care of animals that meet their mental needs will result in better animal welfare and better models. It is important that the standards laid out in Appendix A are adopted as soon as possible, and even exceeded as new scientific information on the mental needs and psychological wellbeing of NHPs is discovered. Poor housing and care standards will cause avoidable suffering and are likely to produce animals less suitable for studies, particularly in the neurosciences.Pharmacological and other data, e.g. cardiovascular such as heart rate and blood pressure, may also be affected by adverse welfare states such as pain, distress and fear.
- Improved recognition of suffering in NHPs (e.g. behavioural signs) is needed, as well as understanding its impact on the animals, and requires further research. Recognition is key to taking any further action such as alleviating such suffering (through the use of anaesthesia and analgesia after painful procedures), and avoiding causing such suffering. This may include improved experimental design (see below), acclimatisation of animals, habituation to procedures such as training, with use of positive training techniques involving rewards, and ensuring the competence of all those involved in the NHP care and experimental procedures.
- Experimental design strategy should be optimised, e.g. staging experimental challenges so that mild stimuli precede more severe ones, humane endpoints and withdrawal from study when a validated endpoint has been identified, early endpoints when object of the experiment has been achieved, or before if there is any significant pain and distress. Such strategies may also include not being able to achieve the scientific objectives as they will be frustrated by the degree of animal suffering. Moreover, identifying key lines of research at an early stage, the use of pilot studies, use of non-invasive technologies e.g. bioluminescence imaging, PET/MRI (micro and macro), long term and tissue friendly implants, telemetry may all result in refining research by causing less suffering.
- The use of MRI and fMRI should helpto refine the use of animals in neurophysiological and neuropsychological studies. Technologies like MRI are a way by which some intracerebral procedures or follow-up of brain interventions can replace euthanasia for target validations and invasive processes. MRI may also be applied to refine toxicological studies by avoiding invasive procedures.
- In studies on vaccine development, early and humane endpoints should be included in the study design (e.g. viral load and CD4 cell counts in HIV vaccine studies, early disease symptoms monitored by using imaging techniques in Tb vaccine studies, etc).
Source & ©: SCHER, The need for non-human primates in biomedical research, production and testing of products and devices (2009),
Section 3.4.1 Refinement, p.27.