Research Involving Animals

Modern medicine has made advances that have brought great benefits to society - especially thanks to animal experiments. We currently have an in-depth understanding of many diseases, and medical research findings have led to the discovery of cures and have helped alleviate suffering.

Advances in medicine thanks to animal research

Without laboratory experiments on animals, the discovery of insulin and antibiotics, for example, or the development of vaccines, treatments for cancer and cardiovascular disorders, as well as modern surgical and diagnostic methods, would not have been possible.

The University of Zurich understands that many people take a critical view of experiments on animals and that they only accept such experiments in certain circumstances. UZH takes care to employ other methods whenever possible and only involves animals in research when no alternative exists. In this regard, the University is committed to exemplary keeping of animals, proper training of the staff involved, careful planning of experiments, and exercising every opportunity to mitigate distress for the animals. It regulates these responsibilities via a strict policy based on both the "Basel Declaration" and the Three Rs Principle of “Replacement, Reduction, Refinement.”

Many mice are used as model organisms to research severe diseases. (Image: Frank Brüderli, UZH)

Animal experiments primarily on rodents

In 2018, 586,643 animals were used for animal experiments in Switzerland, 4.6% fewer than in 2017. According to statistics of the Federal Office for Food Safety and Veterinary Services, almost four out of five animals used in Swiss university and industry laboratories were mice (68.6%) or rats (11.0%). The next most commonly used animals were birds (9.0%) and fish 7.0%). More than two thirds of the animals (71.1%) experienced no or only slight distress. Around 26.1% of the animals were exposed to moderate distress and 2.7% to severe distress.

In 2018, 75,421 animals were used for research or education purposes at the University of Zurich – up 5.5% on the previous year. The most commonly used animals were mice (90.3%), rats (3.9%) and pigs (1.2%). 68% of the animals were used in experiments that caused little or no distress, 29% in experiments causing moderate distress, and less than 3% in experiments causing severe distress.

Three Rs: replacement, reduction, refinement

As is the case with all experiments on animals, the use of animals in research studies is only approved after the cantonal authorities have conducted an extensive evaluation of all interests. The Commission on Animal Experimentation and the Cantonal Veterinary Office assess compliance with the Three Rs principle.

Replacement Replace the animal experiment with a procedure that does not involve animals 
Reduction  Reduce the number of laboratory animals to the absolute minimum

Improve the experimental procedures to minimize pain, suffering or distress

The Commission on Animal Experimentation performs an evaluation of interests for every animal testing application submitted. In this evaluation, the benefits of the proposed study are weighed against the distress caused to the animals. The Commission on Animal Experimentation only recommends the cantonal veterinary office to grant the request when the benefits clearly prevail.

Information on animal experiments and on keeping laboratory animals published by the Veterinary Office of the Canton of Zurich (Veterinäramt, in German)