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Animal Experiments Act: Austrian researchers fear severe restrictions in cancer research and massive disadvantages linked to their location

(Vienna 25th September 2012) A new EU Directive aimed at standardising animal experimentation legislation in Europe is obliging the Austrian parliament to pass a new draft of the Animal Experiments Act before the end of the year. Researchers from Austria’s biggest university and extramural research organisations are voicing serious concerns over the published draft. If the law is implemented as planned, it will jeopardise Austria’s position as a location for research and will hamper fundamental biomedical research.

Researchers agree that animal experiments need to be carried out with as little trauma to the animals as possible and under precisely controlled conditions. The aim is to harmonise these conditions across Europe without worsening the situation for Austrian research. Moving animal experiments to countries where legislation is less restrictive will expose animals to the much worse conditions that prevail there.

In specific terms, researchers are keen to achieve a definition of the permitted areas of application for animal testing. If the law is implemented restrictively, certain experimental approaches, for example of the type used in cancer research, could be banned in future.

Fundamental biomedical research cannot take place without animal models. Cancer-related illnesses, for example, are impossible to simulate in individual cells or tissues due to their complexity; instead they need to be studied in the organism as a whole. Specific cancer medications of the type that are already used in large numbers today stem from experiments carried out on mammals, and without these experiments, it would not have been possible to develop them.

Animals that have cancer or other complex diseases – just like humans – suffer in varying degrees with them. It is often impossible to predict the course of such an illness. The new legislation, however, is demanding precisely that.

If experiments in a certain category are to be generally prohibited in Austria, research would move to other countries. This would mean a massive disadvantage in terms of location for Austrian research organisations, and this in turn would prompt a hypocritical attitude. The medical advances which affected patients are particularly keen to see happen is also very welcome in Austria; however the research into the mechanisms of the disease will need to be carried out elsewhere. 

The approval of animal experiments in the biomedical sector ultimately depends on an ethical question of what importance one attaches to the life of humans versus animals. Researchers are appealing to society to ask itself this question in an honest and frank manner.