IGC partners with EARA’s #BOARD24 campaign

The campaign aims to promote transparency in animal research.
02 may 2024

On May 3, the EARA – European Animal Research Association – launches the fourth edition of the #BOARD24 campaign, an initiative to bring together different institutions signatories to the Transparency Agreement on Animal Research and promote transparency in animal research.

In Portugal, 27 institutions have signed this agreement, a collaborative initiative promoted with the Portuguese Society of Sciences in Laboratory Animals. The Gulbenkian Science Institute signed the agreement in 2018 and has been actively involved in dissemination, informative, and educational activities to clarify society about the relevance of its work.

EARA has consistently and periodically promoted communication initiatives to foster openness and transparency regarding the importance of animal experimentation in identifying new discoveries, solutions for improving quality of life, and addressing societal health challenges.

All scientific institutions are governed by the implementation of scrupulous national and European legislation to comply with animal welfare rules. While the relevance of animal experimentation is evident, investment in research on alternative models and methodologies to reduce the numbers of animals used for scientific purposes is crucial. Here, we emphasize the constant application of the 3Rs principle by Russell and Burch (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement) integrated into a culture of care.

On this day, we highlight the role of veterinarians in biomedical research centers.

Nuno Marques Pereira, who graduated in Veterinary Medicine (1987), began his career in a companion animal clinic and worked with wild animals, particularly Iberian Wolves. He started working in aquatic animal medicine over twenty-five years ago and became the designated veterinarian at the Oceanário de Lisboa. In addition to his work in ornamental fish medicine, since 2006, he has also been involved in aquatic animal research facilities, serving as the designated veterinarian. Since 2005, he has been a guest lecturer at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of the Universidade Lusófona in Lisbon, where he teaches Fish Medicine and Conservation Medicine. He currently assists three aquatic species facilities in Lisbon: Gulbenkian Science Institute- IGC, ISPA University Institute of Psychological, Social and Life Sciences, and João Lobo Antunes Institute of Molecular Medicine – iMM.


What is the role of a veterinarian in a biomedical research center?

In centers where animals are used for scientific purposes (animal facilities), the veterinarian is one of the team members who performs functions specified by European and national legislation to safeguard animal health and welfare. Each animal facility must have its designated veterinarian. Among their functions, which should not be limited to what is described in the law in my view, I can highlight the following: monitoring the health of animals by developing and implementing a diagnostic and health control program; developing biosafety protocols to mitigate the risk of disease transmission between animals and people and vice versa; establishing protocols for anesthesia, analgesia, surgery, euthanasia, and other procedures related to veterinary medicine; participating in the training and education of the team and researchers of the animal facility; participating in the Animal Welfare Body (AWB) that deals with most practical and legal issues related to animal welfare and ethics. Thus, the veterinarian’s contribution in an animal facility is not only important to minimize the prevalence of pathogens and diseases that can threaten the health and welfare of animals and people and jeopardize the quality of scientific results but also contributes to ensuring that the entire experimental process occurs ethically and conscientiously.


What measures are taken to ensure that animal experimentation respects ethical issues and animal rights?

In the European Union, since 1986, ethical and animal welfare issues in research have been regulated by increasingly demanding legislation. There is a growing awareness among those involved at various levels of this community about the importance and necessity of complying with all legal requirements. I emphasize that all animal facilities must comply with rigorous requirements in terms of physical facilities and teams. Animal facilities are subject to inspections by the official authority responsible, the “Direção-Geral de Alimentação e Veterinária” (DGAV), to operate and ensure that the rights of animals in these facilities are safeguarded.

All scientific projects that require the use of animals must be reviewed by the Animal Welfare Body (AWB) of the institution and only then can they be reviewed and eventually approved by the DGAV. The AWBs of various national institutions are functioning fully and improving their internal processes and communication with researchers, notably through discussions within the “RedeORBEA“, a network where members of national AWBs share their experiences and doubts.

In addition, there is a mandatory training process and various guidance documents from the European Commission that establish mechanisms and rules that safeguard the optimization of animal welfare and strengthen the robustness of scientific results.


As a veterinarian with over 15 years of experience in research institutes, how have you been monitoring these animals’ welfare and health surveillance, notably the zebrafish (Danio rerio)?

Scientific research involving fish encompasses numerous species and has, until relatively recently, included areas more closely related to aquaculture, physiology, and toxicology, among others. In recent decades, the use of zebrafish in research has significantly increased, highlighting some of the most relevant areas, such as fundamental research, neuroscience, and biomedicine. Illustrating the latter example, biomedical research, due to its rapid reproduction rate, embryonic transparency, and well-characterized genetic sequencing, zebrafish have become a valuable animal model for studying various biological processes and developing therapies for human diseases.

In other species used in research for a longer time, such as rats, health control programs are well-defined and in a refinement phase. In zebrafish, with previous knowledge acquired in aquaculture and ornamental fish, the most relevant pathogens for welfare and health, their impact on scientific outcomes, and even zoonotic risk, namely the possibility of contamination of humans with animal diseases, were quickly identified. The scientific literature on health monitoring programs in zebrafish saw a surge approximately 15 years ago. In 2022, the Federation of European Laboratory Animal Science Associations (FELASA) together with the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) published recommendations for the health monitoring of fish used in scientific experimentation, with a special emphasis on zebrafish. It is noteworthy that these recommendations, of which I am one of the authors, emerged only about 8 years after a similar document, but concerning rats. This short interval reflects that, compared to rats, a similar path was followed in zebrafish at a considerably faster pace. The evolution of health protocols for zebrafish may have been influenced by previous experience with this process in rats and, primarily, by all the know-how accumulated in medicine in the areas of aquaculture and ornamental fish.

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