VUB, Sciensano, Flanders and Brussels call on scientists to share expertise on alternative testing methods via RE-Place platform

A few years ago, the Flemish and Brussels Regions launched RE-Place, a platform for researchers to share their expertise on alternatives to animal testing. The project, coordinated by Sciensano and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, was recently optimised, including an online tool for better exchange of existing expertise.

Prof Vera Rogiers, expert in alternative methods for toxicology at VUB for more than 30 years: “Today we have already collected 170 non-animal test methods. These include methods that apply to drug development, toxicology, immunology, neurology and cancer research, etc. Yet this is only a fraction of the existing expertise in our country. To make maximum use of this knowledge, it is essential that all scientists in Belgium participate in the RE-Place project.”

Around half a million laboratory animals are used for scientific purposes in Belgium every year, most frequently in biomedical research into new therapies for diseases such as cancer. In addition, the use of laboratory animals is often required by law, for example for the safety of medicines and vaccines. This is strictly controlled by the ethics committees and the regional authorities for animal welfare.

Rogiers: “Of course, the ultimate goal is to develop methods that do not require the use of animals, but we must be realistic, and today that is not yet possible. Meanwhile, we can try to integrate new technologies where possible. This will help build confidence. As these new technologies develop rapidly, it is important, especially for young researchers, that they have easy access to reliable information and best practices. This is one of the main reasons why the RE-Place project was launched.”

Reduction, refinement and replacement

Sciensano and VUB have jointly developed an online tool that has already collected 170 non-animal methods from various research fields and institutions. The launch of this new and improved version of the RE-Place platform allows for more efficient collection of expertise in Brussels and Flanders.

Call for expertise sharing

The Flemish and Brussels Regions are calling on scientists to share their expertise as much as possible via RE-Place. “There are more and more alternatives to animal testing, and Flanders can play a pioneering role in this area. Some animal testing remains a necessary evil, however. The focus of our policy is on the thorough application of the ‘3Rs policy’: reduction, refinement, replacement,” says Flemish minister for animal welfare Ben Weyts. “We continue to strive for a maximum reduction in the number of animal tests.”

[...] “I want to prevent the suffering of experimental animals as much as possible,” says Brussels minister for animal welfare Bernard Clerfayt (Défi). “This can be done by developing, encouraging and supporting alternative methods. If today we know exactly how many animals are used for scientific research, I think it is essential to reduce this number.”

VUB is pioneer in 3R

VUB is a pioneer in the field of alternatives to animal testing and also founded the Innovation Center -3Rs (IC-3Rs), where young researchers can do their PhD using non-animal methods.

Learn more about RE-Place in the video below.