Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) and the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU). Ambition statement on innovation in higher education using fewer laboratory animals. 2022, 31 p.


Universities of the Netherlands (UNL) and the Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU) have joined forces to present an ambition statement for animal-free innovations in academic education. There has been a public debate about the use of laboratory animals for some considerable time. The development and presentation of this ambition statement is the contribution of research universities and UMCs to this debate. As a point of departure, the education sector – and future researchers in particular – should pay more attention to pursuing animal-free innovations and using fewer laboratory animals. In 2019, UNL and NFU joined the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV)’s Transition Programme for Innovation without the use of animals (TPI).

Laboratory animals are used in a variety of fields, including the medical and biomedical sciences, biology, neuropsychology, dentistry and veterinary medicine. They are necessary to gather and expand knowledge, acquire practical skills or develop new surgery techniques. Laboratory animals are occasionally used in education as well.

Using fewer laboratory animals while maintaining the quality of education and refresher training
In their ambition statement, UNL and NFU outline their strategy to reduce the use of laboratory animals in Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programmes and post-academic refresher training, while maintaining the quality of education and refresher training. It is expected that introducing a new generation of researchers to animal-free innovations and opportunities to develop such innovations at an early stage will have a long-term effect on the future of the professional field.

Realistic transition targets for animal-free innovations
The ambition statement explains the opportunities, ambitions and actions required to speed up the transition to animal-free innovations. These include the further integration in education of simulations, the use of stem cells to generate tissue or organs (organ-on-chip), virtual reality, real-life or digital models, and skills labs. The key components of this strategy are the three Rs: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of the use of laboratory animals. The ambition statement includes:

  • a description of the current situation as regards the use of laboratory animals;
  • a list of already available alternatives and technologies;
  • targets for the next 10 years;
  • recommendations for action (including policy measures).
  • Broad expertise

NFU and UNL have established a joint task force led by Prof. Wouter Dhert (UU). Throughout the development of the ambition statement, the task force was in close contact with the TPI core group at LNV. In addition, the parties established a working group chaired by Prof. Daniela Salvatori to finalise the ambition statement. This group consisted of experts in various fields and at various stages of their careers from the academic institutions involved.

Link to press release.