Ethics and animal testing

Noldus Information Technology provides tools for the study of behavior, both animal (including laboratory studies, wildlife behavior, farm animal welfare studies, pet-owner interactions and many more) and human behavior (for example, human-computer interaction studies, consumer research, parent-child interactions). Because laboratory testing is one of the fields of research where our tools are applied, we feel it is important to state our view on the ethics of animal testing here.

Animals are sentient beings – they deserve our respect. They are valuable in many ways, which includes their invaluable contribution to scientific research, so we need to provide them with what they need for a good life, as much as we can.

The necessity and legislation of animal testing

Noldus IT feels strongly that animal testing should be kept to a minimum and that unnecessary tests should not be performed. While we cannot say that all animal testing is unnecessary, what is and what is not necessary remains the subject of a scientific and societal ethical discussion in a democratic society. In many countries, there is clear and strict legislation, even stricter than the laws that protect our own pets. Researchers have to carefully consider and argue the importance of their experiments. This includes review by an expert animal ethical committee, so that the relevance for human health against the distress of the animal are always carefully weighed.

Our ambition is to provide our customers with the tools they can use to get valuable research results while optimizing the level of animal welfare to a level that is well above what legislation requires. The three R’s are good guidelines, which we think all modern biomedical research should comply with.

  • Replacement: Wherever possible, use non-animal alternatives (e.g. cell culture tests, computer models/simulations).
  • Refinement: Modify the techniques so that tests are less invasive, causing less pain and distress, and by enriching the test environment, allowing animals to perform natural behavior. Using organisms with simpler nervous systems such as invertebrates can also been seen as refinement.
  • Reduction: Refine methods so that fewer animals are needed to get valid results, e.g. by multimodal approaches (collecting multiple data streams from each animal) and by increasing the accuracy of measurements.

Wellbeing of animals versus curing diseases

When it comes to biomedical research, there must be a balance between the wellbeing of animals and developing new cures for human diseases. Unfortunately, for many disabling and life-threatening brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, there is no cure yet. As a society, we have committed ourselves to finding ways to improve the quality of life for people suffering from these diseases. The brain is the most complex human organ, and its ultimate read-out – behavior – can only be tested in an intact organism. These treatments cannot be developed without at least some animal testing. The prevention of undesirable side effects in new medicines is part of experimental testing; the alternative (no experimental testing on animals) would imply that humans would fulfill this role.

Animal testing for the more non-essential things in life, such as cosmetics, is something we do not approve of, and fortunately this is forbidden in many countries.

Providing tools for animal testing

Noldus IT does not perform animal tests. However, we do develop software and equipment that finds its application in animal behavior research. A large part of this is laboratory research. We strongly feel that all animals deserve our respect, and we need to minimize their pain and discomfort as much as we can. We also feel that the development of therapies or even cures for disabling and life-threatening diseases in humans is very important as well.

What we do to improve animal welfare

At Noldus IT, we do not believe that the discontinuation of our products for animal testing, such as our video tracking software or our home cage testing environment, will help to improve animal welfare and reduce the number of tests. In fact, we strongly believe that our products can improve science and contribute to the refinement and reduction of the use of animals.

Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement are very important to us, and are top priorities in the development of our products:

  • Our software products facilitate the complete automation of tests. This limits handling and so stress to the animal (they are less invasive) and in many cases allows for tests to be done in the animal’s home cage.
  • Our home cage observation system provides an enriched environment for the animals.
  • Our solutions are more accurate and less prone to error than manual methods. They deliver objective data, meaning that fewer tests with fewer animals yield the same valid results for scientific conclusions.
  • The development of solutions to test other organisms, such as zebrafish larvae and invertebrates, gives scientists the opportunity to replace tests previously performed with mammals.

The importance of welfare to good science

Implementing measures to improve animal welfare is not only in the interest of the animals, but of science as well. The way animals are housed and treated affects their physiology and behavior, and so has a major impact on the validity and reproducibility of the scientific results. Naturally, science benefits if researchers can make sure that the effects they are measuring are actually from the experiment they are conducting and not from any housing condition, handling, diet, etc. that is outside the scope of the research. Indeed, many studies have shown that scientific results benefit from the improvement of animal welfare.

For more information about this, please see websites such as Noldus IT actively participates in initiatives aimed at improving the quality of animal research, such as the EQIPD project.

The 3Rs collaborative

Noldus is a member of the 3Rs collaborative. That is an organization based in the US which works for Reduction, Refinement and Replacement of animal testing. We are especially active in the working group Translation Digital Biomarkers. Translational digital biomarkers are objective physiological and behavioral data which are collected using digital technologies such as Noldus' solutions.

Wildlife preservation, farm animal welfare, human-pet interaction

Noldus IT is about making tools for behavioral research, and our tools are often applied in wildlife studies, studies on zoo animal behavior, welfare studies in farm animals, and human-pet interaction studies. These are non-invasive behavioral studies on animals performed in their natural environments or habitats. They have led to results that are important for wildlife conservation, increased wellbeing of farm and zoo animals, and better understanding of pet-owner relationships, both from a human psychological and animal welfare point of view.

If you have any questions about these statements, please contact us at [email protected].