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Vrije Universiteit Brussel announced today which measures it took at the animal testing unit. VUB has critically audited its testing facilities after animal rights organisation GAIA had made undercover video recordings. Rector Caroline Pauwels: ‘Sedation by undercooling will no longer be applied. Internally there will be more structural controls in place and we will allow outsiders to audit and guide our laboratories. Researchers at the animal testing unit will be permanently educated on animal wellbeing. Finally a lead academic has been appointed to coordinate the working of the testing facilities optimally, in close collaboration with the Ethical Commission Animal Testing and the Animal Wellbeing Cell.
VUB had temporarily suspended all its animal testing per request of state secretary Bianca Debaets after an undercover operation by GAIA. The measures were found to be reassuring by Brussels’ state secretary Bianca Debaets and she has agreed to allow the university to start new research projects that include animal testing again. Every two months VUB will report to the state secretary on the proceedings at the animal testing unit, under the supervision of an inspector-veterinarian.
The university has taken measures in the fields of animal wellbeing, administration, infrastructure and scientific research. First and foremost the sedation of young mice by undercooling will be stopped effective immediately. After two external audits a number of other actions have been taken. The governance of the animal testing unit has been improved by strengthening the management, quality care and the administration. A new academic lead has been appointed who, together with the Ethical Commission Animal Testing and the Animal Wellbeing Cell, will make sure that both the housing and the experiments are in accordance to the rules. Further it is important to note that extra staff will be hired and that all employees and academics will continuously be educated on animal wellbeing. There will now also be external supervision in that area. The quality system with written procedures and structural internal and external auditing has been further expanded. Among other things an integrated quality system has been put in place, as well as an IT system for the registration of the animals. Furthermore, the current infrastructure has been adapted, e.g. with a improved ventilation. The entire upgrade of the forty year old facilities cost around 100.000 euro.
Caroline Pauwels: “We have decided to give the animal testing unit more clout and will henceforth have an academic lead in charge. This changes the workings of a facilitating service within scientific research towards an independent entity”.
For Vrije Universiteit Brussel it is a relief that the scientific research will be started again allowing for studies towards cures for diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s disease and many others. More specifically this means that 27 approved projects that have been on hold for three months, can now be (re)started. For practical and logistical reasons the restart will follow a phased approach, spread out over two months.
“Internally we have altered course and we are fully committed to alternatives”, says rector Pauwels. “At this time it is impossible to forego animal testing for scientific research. But, animal wellbeing is primordial following the three Rs: Replace and Reduce animal testing as well as Refine the current methods.
In the future VUB wants to commit even more to animal wellbeing. In the investment plan of the university 13,8 million euro has been earmarked for the build of a new animal testing unit, to be constructed in the near future. The new animal testing facility will meet international criteria for animal wellbeing. Construction should be finished by 2018-2019.