Last Friday 29 March, two news shows made by the Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation (NOS) broadcast a news item about animal experiments, the NOS Journaal for adults and the Jeugdjournaal for children. In order to make these items they visited BPRC, prompted by the news that the number of animal experiments will be gradually decreasing in the coming years.
Speaking at the lab, our director Ronald Bontrop explained why studies using primates are necessary to save human lives. ‘These experiments are important for the development of medicines against serious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.’
Laboratory animals still required
Especially for the Jeugdjournaal, Ronald explained that primates are very similar to people. ‘Primates are sensitive to the same pathogens (disease agents). That’s why we do experiments with primates that you don’t want to do with people and that you can’t do with mice. We carry out animal experiments here when no alternatives exist. So you can’t do without animal experiments. You have to test a vaccine or a medicine for its effectiveness and safety before giving it to people.’
Ingrid van Engelshoven, the Minister of Education, Culture and Science, said that she did not plan to ban all experiments with primates. ‘We also need to look at the risks. There are some experiments we need for things like dangerous infectious diseases. People are working hard on alternatives. But unfortunately for the time being we can’t do without animal experiments.’
‘Often when you start testing a good medicine and it turns out not to work, then that’s very disappointing,’ Ronald explained on camera. ‘But on the other hand it means that you have taken a medicine out of the pipeline that isn’t safe yet.’
Reducing the number of animal experiments
The NOS Journaal reported that all animals are born at BPRC from its own breeding colony of more than 1400 animals. The number of animal experiments will be gradually decreasing in the coming years. BPRC has agreed with Minister Van Engelshoven that over a period of five years it will reduce the number of animal experiments to less than 150 per year. This amounts to a reduction of forty per cent. Moreover, BPRC will increase its efforts in the area of alternatives and laboratory techniques that do not require animal testing.