Use of Animals for Research Purposes

Owing to their scientific validity, scientists rely on animal models to understand diseases and develop treatments. The use of animals for research purposes raises a number of ethical questions and warrants social debate. Inserm uses these models, and is aware of its responsibilities.

Animals have been used in research throughout the history of modern medicine. Inserm has thus used animal models since its creation in 1964.

Preclinical animal research is an essential step, which serves to ensure that medicinal products or treatment protocols are safe and effective, before making them available to patients. However, the use of animal models contributes so much more extensively to understanding the mechanisms of living beings.

From the rabies vaccine to gene therapy, immeasurable progress

  • In 1885, Louis Pasteur designed the rabies vaccine thanks to dogs and rabbits.
  • The electrocardiogram was developed in 1913, by Willem Einthoven, using pigs.
  • In 1921, Frederick Banting and Charles Best used dogs to demonstrate that diabetes could be treated with insulin.
  • AIDS treatments are being developed thanks to studies conducted in rats and apes.
  • In the 00s, murine models enabled Marina Cavazzana, Alain Fischer, and Salima Hacein-Bey Abina to develop gene therapy to treat children with « bubble boy disease ».

There are countless examples!

A strictly controlled practice owing to its ethical challenges

According to scientists, animal research is not an end in itself, but rather a step in a process. In the community, as well as among scientists, the use of animals gives rise to moral questions, together with the desire to minimize the stresses on these sentient beings.

These considerations are expressed by the implementation of a very strict, harmonized European regulatory framework. These regulations provide for a collection of measures and mechanisms for guaranteeing animal well-being: ethical evaluation of projects, site compliance, personnel skills, etc.

Animal models at Inserm

At Inserm, the Organisms, Models and Resources Group are highly committed to debating and promoting good practice inherent in the use of animal models. Inserm takes part in national committees and working groups, both in France and on a European level, aiming to optimize research on animal models.

The Organisms, Models and Resources Group (which includes the Ethics and Animal Models Office) guarantees compliance with regulations and promotes good practice in the field of animal studies within Inserm. For this purpose, it monitors the human and material resources utilized within the Institute. This group notably takes on the following roles:

  • centralizing authorization applications for sites housing animals
  • offering guidance when setting up facilities or on issues relating to managing animal health
  • participating in setting up training for the reasoned use of animal models as part of an ethical and regulatory approach
  • offering assistance in project design
  • representing Inserm within the Commission nationale de l’expérimentation animale (CNEA, national animal studies committee) and Francopa, a French platform dedicated to the development, validation and diffusion of alternative methods in animal studies

The Organisms, Models and Resources Group liaises with the Directorate General of Inserm, the Communication Department, the unit directors, the Property Office, the continuing training managers, together with the site skills managers.

Inserm, signatory of the Charter of transparency on the use of animals for scientific and regulatory purposes in France

As part of its policy of transparency on the use of animals for research purposes, in February 2021, Inserm signed a charter with more than 30 research institutions and private laboratories. Through this charter, Inserm and all the signatories of the Charter are committed to better communicating with the public on the use of animals for scientific purposes, to remove doubts about animal research.

Animal models and scientific progress

For more information on the role of animal research in recent advances made in biological and medical research, refer to the « Animal Research » site. This is designed and run by Gircor, an interprofessional research discussion and communication group which brings together public and private biomedical research institutions and drug companies. Gircor’s mission is to provide information on animal studies to allow individuals to form their own opinion on this issue, in full knowledge of the fact.