The new 3R Center Rhine-Neckar will start in February 2021. Thus, the commitment in the Rhine-Neckar region to animal welfare in research will be jointly advanced in the future according to the internationally recognized 3Rs principle (Replace, Reduce, Refine). The partners involved, the Central Institute of Mental Health (ZI), the Mannheim University Medical Center and the University of Heidelberg, are intensifying their networking in order to further reduce the number of animal experiments and to reduce the stress on laboratory animals as much as possible by optimizing methods and measurement procedures. The 3R Center Rhine-Neckar is funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts.
Pooling existing expertise
In Baden-Württemberg and in the Rhine-Neckar region, there are a large number of biomedical research institutions where animal experiments also take place. Therefore, the issue of animal welfare is of particular importance. With the 3R Center Rhine-Neckar, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts is now promoting expanded efforts to strengthen the internationally recognized 3Rs principle. „I am pleased that the ZI, the University Medical Center Mannheim as well as the University of Heidelberg are contributing their many years of experience in this field to the new 3Rs network and helping to advance animal welfare in research and teaching throughout the state. The network brings together all locations of biomedical research in Baden-Württemberg, bundles the broadly available expertise and, in doing so, aims not only to continuously address the issue of animal welfare but also to improve the overall quality of research. With its focus on 'Refine' and 'Reduce', the 3R Center Rhine-Neckar ideally complements the '3R Center for In Vitro Models and Animal Testing Alternatives' in Tübingen/Reutlingen, which we have been supporting since last year," says Science Minister Theresia Bauer.
Significant reduction in animal testing
The 3Rs principle is based on the following three aspects: First, animal experiments should be replaced by suitable alternatives wherever possible (Replace). Second, if this is not possible, the number of animal experiments should be reduced to the lowest possible level (Reduce). Third, by optimizing scientific methods and measurement procedures, carefully selecting animal models and keeping them in a species-appropriate manner, the conditions for laboratory animals should be improved as much as possible (Refine). „We have already broken new ground over many years in the spirit of the 3Rs principle, which has led to a significant reduction in animal experiments at the ZI. With the new 3R Center, we can identify further potential and strengthen animal protection together with our partners," says Prof. Dr. Rainer Spanagel, Scientific Director of the Institute for Psychopharmacology at the ZI and one of the initiators of the new center.
Contact point and support for animal researchers
An important task of the center is to coordinate animal research in the Rhine-Neckar region even better in the future, to enable the exchange of know-how and mutual assistance so that the highest level of scientific knowledge can always be implemented. A database will help to facilitate the joint exchange of laboratories. The new center is intended to be a single point of contact when it comes to designing new experiments. „We hope that in this way the 3Rs principle can be implemented effectively, thus avoiding unnecessary animal experiments," says Dr. Marcus Meinhardt, coordinator of the new 3R Center Rhine-Neckar.
The 3R Center Rhine-Neckar aims to involve scientists who are already working in experimental animal research or who intend to do so, because they are in the best position to refine their experiments in the interest of animal welfare and to reduce the number of experiments. Therefore, at the 3R Center, researchers will receive support in selecting useful animal models, training on 3Rs principles, and special seminars. This also involves free access to research results. The 3R Center Rhine-Neckar is committed to open science principles and encourages scientists to work and publish according to these principles.
Obtaining data using alternative approaches
In order to further reduce animal testing, the 3R Center supports research projects that obtain data using alternative approaches. These include, for example, laboratory tests on cell systems and organoids (in vitro approaches) as well as experiments using computer models and simulations or by retrieving already collected data from special databases (in silico). Such Big Data approaches hold great potential for animal welfare in research in the field of preclinical neuroscience. „However, despite the enormous efforts and progress made so far in in vitro and in silico approaches, it is currently not possible to completely eliminate animal testing in biomedical research," says Spanagel.
In addition to the Central Institute of Mental Health, the Interfaculty Biomedical Research Facility (IBF) at the University of Heidelberg and the University Medical Center Mannheim are also involved.