Experiments with Animals – Statement

#Animal experiments

Why the Volkswagen Foundation also funds projects involving experiments with animals.

In some areas of biomedical research, it is not yet possible to substitute alternative methods for experimental research using animals. Nevertheless, guided by the 3R principle (Replace - Reduce - Refine), significant progress has been made in recent years in the development of laboratory methods and models which do make it possible to use cells and tissue in experiments instead of the whole organism.  Moreover, so-called organoids and organ-on-a-chip systems have the advantage that human cells can be used – so that on the one hand the transferability of the results and the effect on humans is more evident than when using animal models. However, when it comes to weighing up the ethical concerns between animal testing and alternative methods, it should be pointed out that many of the organoid and organ-on-a-chip systems require animal-based materials. Therefore, in general terms, they are not completely "animal-free", and animals often have to suffer stress and even die for this purpose. On the other hand, these systems can only represent pieces of the intricate puzzle that constitutes the whole organism. The interaction of the immune, nervous, and hormonal systems as well as factors such as the microbiome and social environment of an entire organism are so incredibly complex that they cannot yet be adequately simulated in the laboratory, even by interconnecting the different organ systems. Experimental research at this level can currently only be performed using laboratory animals.

About Volkswagen Foundation

Volkswagen Foundation is an independent, non-profit foundation under private law founded by the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Lower Saxony. Since 1962 it has fulfilled its statutory purpose of promote the advancement of the sciences and technology in research and higher education in Germany. Even though its name might suggest otherwise, it is not a corporate foundation and not affiliated to the Volkswagen automobile manufacturer.  As a supporting foundation, it does not carry out any scientific studies or experiments itself. The foundation doesn't commission them either. As part of its funding offer, it supports scientific research projects in all disciplines. Some of these may include animal experiments, for example in biomedical (e. g. neuroscientific) projects.

In view of the foregoing, the Volkswagen Foundation therefore also funds projects in which animal experiments are carried out. Experiments using animals make a significant contribution to research into human health in biomedicine and are, of course, indispensable in the study of animal health, their behavior, and the interactions in their ecosystem. In short: if you want to study animals (including humans), experiments with living organisms still play a major role. It always starts with the question: What exactly is to be researched and what is the best way to answer this question? As a rule, many different methods are needed to answer a research question comprehensively. In the event that an animal experiment is considered to be absolutely necessary, the decision comes at the end of a chain of many other experiments that do not involve animals – the animal experiment is always only the last resort and is prepared very carefully.

It should be pointed out that the Volkswagen Foundation in many cases also supports alternative methods to animal testing, for example in the funding initiatives "Experiment!", "Freigeist", and "Antiviral Drug Development". We do not cite these examples because they replace animal experiments, and have therefore not labeled them as alternatives. However, they do form part of the normal research process, and they often play a role supplementary to experimenting with animals. As soon as an alternative is found or used as part of an already approved project, it is funded in the same way as animal testing in other cases.

The scientific quality of projects involving animal testing is assessed as part of the scientific review process. The Volkswagen Foundation only funds projects that have been assessed as worthy of funding in a thorough review process carried out by experts in the respective field. During this quality check, the experts assess whether the research question described in the application is relevant to the subject area and whether the proposed methods are suitable for addressing the question. This ensures that experiments involving animals are only funded if they are both useful and absolutely necessary in the context of the respective research question.  

Approval for carrying out experiments with animals has to be  granted by the responsible authorities. Irrespective of funding from the Volkswagen Foundation and the review process, researchers in Germany have to seek approval from the responsible local authority. The Foundation is not involved in this complicated and extensive process, but in cases of doubt will request submission of an ethical statement.

The Volkswagen Foundation supports the transparency initiative and thus all efforts to report transparently on animal testing. Experiments using animals are quite rightly viewed critically by animal welfare organizations. It is therefore important that research institutions and research funders explain in a transparent way why animal experiments are still indispensable for research and under what conditions animal experiments are carried out. An open and honest discussion about the use of animals in research and, for example, a comparison with animal use in food production is only possible if everyone involved knows what an animal experiment entails, how much or how little the animals suffer in the process, and how the decision to undertake an animal experiment is reached.  The Volkswagen Foundation is therefore part of Initiative Transparente Tierversuche (German only) and is committed to open and proactive information about animal experiments in science. As part of the Allianz der Wissenschaftsorganisationen (German (only), the Volkswagen Foundation also supports the website (German only), which provides comprehensive information material on this topic.

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