Principles of animal research at Ulm University

Scientists at Ulm University are conducting important research into major global challenges, including topics of human health and ageing. In biomedical research, there is a strong focus on common diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease as well as on traumatic injuries, where animal experiments are often indispensable.

Our scientists in Ulm use alternative methods omitting animal experiments whenever possible. These methods, however, cannot completely replace animal experiments in the foreseeable future. Of course, all animal experimentation at Ulm University is officially approved and monitored by animal welfare officers.

The following principles guide the actions of our scientists in research and teaching.

Principles of animal experiments

Animal experiments are performed only when necessary and indispensable.

Scientists at Ulm University are conducting research into the major biomedical challenges of our times: They strive to expand the understanding of the complexity of biological systems and which processes take place in the body during disease. These findings are essential for new and improved therapies for patients suffering, for instance, from cancer and neurological diseases, or from a serious accident. Beyond this patient-oriented research, animal experimentation is an important pillar in basic research to gain greater insight into fundamental biological processes.

Whenever possible, researchers at Ulm University work with animal-free methods, such as cell and organ cultures or computer simulations. When it comes to elucidating the complex interactions of different cells within an organ, or organ systems in the disease process, experiments on living animals are indispensable. The same applies to the testing of new treatment methods and active pharmaceutical substances. The necessity of each individual animal experiment is carefully weighed against the expected gain in knowledge.
Overall, the researchers attach the greatest importance to the principles of animal welfare and ethics, they work transparently and are open to dialogue.

The 3Rs stand for 'Replacement, Reduction, Refinement'. The researchers at Ulm University are led by these guidelines when planning animal experiments and applying for official approval.

  • The principle of 'replacement' emphasises the avoidance of animal experiments and the use of non-animal alternatives whenever possible. Such alternatives are steadily becoming better, more versatile, more reliable and therefore more frequently usable. Nevertheless, in the foreseeable future they will not be sufficient to adequately map complex processes between the individual systems of a living organism and replace animal experiments completely.

  •  'Reduction' means that all animal experiments must be carefully thought-out and planned in a way to use as few animals as possible but as many as necessary. In any case, the focus of researchers is to derive reliable and statistically sound statements.

  • The 'Refinement' principle stipulates that the stress for the animals during the experiment must be kept as low as possible: The Pain must be minimised and animal care must be adapted to the experiment. On the one hand, this approach corresponds to the guiding principle of animal welfare, on the other hand, it ensures the quality and reliability of the test results.

Alternatives to animal experiments are being studied and preferentially used.

The development of animal-free alternative methods is actively promoted at Ulm University. For example, researchers are working intensively on a human whole blood model to simulate coagulation and defence processes in human blood. The University also conducts ground-breaking in vitro experiments on newly developed 'mini intestine' and 'mini brain' models. Moreover, Ulm's researchers are leaders in the development of artificial cell-based pulmonary alveoli ('lung on the chip'). Computer simulations are increasingly used to simulate and better understand complex processes in the human body. The use of cell cultures, tissue samples or computer simulations, however, has clear limitations, as they only mimic partial aspects of the extremely complex processes of living organisms.For this reason, it is not possible, at least for the time being, to completely forego experimentation on living animals.

The use of animals in life science study programmes is currently necessary to ensure the quality of education.

One of the aims of life science study programmes such as biology or medicine is to teach a deep understanding of the anatomical structure of organisms. This knowledge can only partly be obtained via computer simulations and other animal-free models. For this reason, working with animals and materials from dead animals is part of the curriculum in life science courses. The number of animals involved and the stress put on them is kept to a minimum. Animals are also used in continuing academic education in order to practice handling and operating on animals and to ensure a high quality of the experiments and the resulting insights.

Optimal care and animal husbandry are of utmost importance to the researchers.

For Ulm University, animal welfare is top priority: Animal-friendly and species-appropriate care and husbandry are matters of course, and follow official scientific, veterinary principles and guidelines.
Only qualified staff are entrusted with the care of the animals in our Animal Research Centre. Employees in the areas of veterinary medicine and animal care receive regular training and further education in order to meet the high standards of animal husbandry. The compliance with all animal welfare requirements is overseen by animal welfare officers. In addition, the Veterinary Office conducts regular inspections in all areas of the animal facility. Ulm University is practising full transparency over the origin of all animals and their usage, and shares this information with the authorities annually.

Ulm University ensures strict compliance with approval procedures for animal experimentation.

The performance of animal experiments is strictly regulated by the German Animal Welfare Act (Tierschutzgesetz). The EU Directive 2010/63/EU also gives high priority to animal welfare in animal experimental research. In order to warrant top-level research while adhering to highest standards of animal welfare, Ulm University ensures strict compliance with the approval procedure.

Prior to each animal experiment, an application is prepared in collaboration with the University's animal welfare officers and submitted to the licencing authority (Regierungspräsidium Tübingen). A commission consisting of researchers and animal welfare representatives then examines plausibility, indispensability and ethical acceptability of the proposed experiment. The licensing authority takes the vote of the commission into consideration when making its decision.

The animal welfare officers of Ulm University are the central contact persons for both the research institution and the licensing authority. They are independent and not scientifically involved in the respective experiments.

Animal experiments at Ulm University

A total of 32.159 animals were involved in experiments at Ulm University in 2020, predominantly mice (almost 64%) and fish (around 34%).

Other animals used included: rats, clawed frogs, hamsters, pigs, sheep and rabbits (each species max. 1.1 % of all animals used in 2020).

Transparency Agreement for Animal Research

Ulm University is one of the signatories of the Transparency Agreement for Animal Reseach.

Press Release DFG 1 July 2021