Vinardell MP, Mitjans M. Alternatives to Animals in Physiology Laboratory Classes: State of the Art in Faculties of Pharmacy in Spain. Poster session presented at: Alternatives in the Mainstream: Innovations in Life Science Education and Training. 2nd InterNICHE Conference; 2005 May 12-15; Oslo, Norway


The important challenge in physiology is to reinforce the theoretical concepts explained in class, integrating the different areas in which physiological knowledge is didactically divided. To meet this objective, the traditional approach is to use animals in the practical laboratory. However, such labs are rarely viable at the undergraduate level because of the cost of keeping animals and the requirement for surgical skills in the lab preparation that students lack.

In Spain there are a total of 12 faculties of pharmacy spread around the country. Of these, about 55% still use animal experimentation in laboratory training. The experiments usually included in practical classes are Intestinal absorption, Animal administration, Rat Dissection, Diabetic Rat, Neuromuscular preparation and Estral cycle in rats. The rest of the faculties have totally replaced animal experimentation by self-experimentation, computer programs and manikins to study human anatomy.

Self-experimentation offers some advantages. For example, it allows students to understand the mechanistic approach in their own bodies, which increases their involvement during laboratory classes and their interest for the subject. Although some procedures need special devices, some easy and low cost approaches exist that can successfully illustrate the physiology. One example of the latter is the vascular responses to local exposure to low temperatures.

In conclusion, it is necessary to raise teachers’ concern for animal well-being and encourage instructors to introduce and develop high quality alternatives in training laboratories.