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White mouse in the small pet house; Copyright by Charité, Photo by Birgit Formann

3R Curriculum: Animal Ethics and the 3R Principle in Biomedical Research

Next course: September 4th-8th 2023 as an on-site event.

* * * Registration is closed. * * *


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Animal experimentation is still playing a major role in biomedical and translational research. However, due to limited transferability and ethical concerns on the one hand as well as strong technological progress on the other, alternative models get more in focus to address central scientific questions.

Process and methodology

This 1-week PhD course introduces along the 3Rs principles of “Replacement, Reduction and Refinement” the current developments in this field.
This course provides an overview of innovative research approaches and measures for the welfare of laboratory animals and discusses ethical aspects. The introductory and ethical courses can also be taken separately ("part I").

In lectures and hands-on sessions, (mainly) Charité research groups present innovative methods such as 3D (bio-)printing, organoids or in silico modelling and how these could contribute to minimize animal use. Moreover, in interactive seminars we discuss ethical aspects how animal welfare in biomedical research can be improved. The courses are held in English, since they are aimed at international doctoral students affiliated to any university.

program (draft)

Workload course week: 2.5 ECTS-CP

Workload part I: 0.4 ECTS-CP

Face to Face - Part I:

Animal Ethics and the 3Rs principles in Biomedical Research

This course will introduce the 3Rs principles of “Replacement, Reduction and Refinement” and in interactive seminars we will discuss ethical aspects how animal welfare in biomedical research could be improved.

Introduction into the 3Rs principles

The principles of the 3Rs: Replace, Reduce, Refine were first introduced in 1959 by William Russell and Rex Burch. Since then, these principles became a central reference point when it comes to animal experimentation. Beside their influence on animal experimentation, the 3Rs principles were implemented in several laws on national and international levels. The general idea of the 3Rs, their history and today’s situation in legislation and regulatory concerns will be presented in this course.

3Rs and alternative methods from the academic perspective

The 3Rs principles are not only a tool to ensure animal welfare in biomedical and translational research but play also an important role for research quality. The need to generate reproducible and reliable data in biomedical research combined with the technical progress of the past decades enabled a strong improvement of alternative methods. Especially in academic research, a lot of promising techniques like for example in vitro methods are developed to answer biomedical questions in a qualified human-oriented manner. The chances but also challenges of developing and establishing new models in the academic field will be discussed in this course.

Ethics in biomedical research: reduce waste, increase value

The lecture will briefly introduce the established ethical frameworks for biomedical research. The most basic element underlying all frameworks for research ethics is the value of research for science and society. The lecture will explain why the current debate on “increasing value, reducing waste in biomedical research” points to certain ethical challenges in biomedical research that all relevant stakeholders (researchers, academic institutions, funders, oversight bodies, patient representatives) become increasingly aware of. The lecture will provide an outlook on how the relevant stakeholder groups might change policies and practices to address the value principle more explicitly.

Animal ethics and animal experiments

Are animal experiments ethically justified? When discussing this question, many scientists argue that experiments are useful or even necessary for medical progress. What is often neglected is that this argument can only justify experiments when certain assumptions about the ethical status of animals have been made. These assumptions will be reflected on and discussed in this class.

Face to Face - Part II:

Replace, Reduce, Refine


3D bioprinting – chances and challenges in biomedical research

Bioprinting has emerged as a powerful tool in the field of tissue engineering to generate tissue- and organ-like structures by precise dispositioning of cells and biomaterials in a spatially predefined manner. Due to tailorable parameters of materials as well as printing conditions this innovative technology is increasingly utilized in a broad range of life science applications, gaining an impact especially on medical and pharmaceutical sciences. The course will inform about potential but also challanges of bioprinting, including technologies, materials and it´s application.

Organoids: a multi-faceted tool in regenerative medicine

This interactive lecture will address fundamental concepts of cell biology and developmental biology, necessary to understand the principles of deriving and maintaining organoids that resemble human tissue. Most recent advances in the field regarding in vitro and ex vivo organoid generation techniques will be discussed. The wide-ranging applications of stem cell derived organoids, focusing on disease modelling and personalized medicine will be reviewed. The lecture closes with an open discussion about advantages and limitations of these in vitro systems in the light of in vivo studies.

Ethics of organoids and other humanized models

Every day, new scientific techniques and tools are encountered like human stem cells, gene-edited or not, used to generate human/animal chimeras. Growing human organs in animal hosts. Miniaturized organs (organoids) of virtually any tissue. Gene editing used to humanize the genetic composition of animals. Even other primates. Isn't this too much? 

Will the ethics debate around these model systems, for example, of informed consent for donors of human stem cells, limits of animal utilization, naturalness and species boundaries hinder progress and research? 

Or will this reflection add disruption to the innovation, value to the science? 

All these questions will be discussed in this session.

Primary human lung tissue and organoids for replacement of animal research

Using primary human material as well as organoids for ex vivo disease modeling efficiently supports translational research and fosters the mechanistic understanding of human lung disease. The course will give an overview of advantages, application areas and limitations of these two models. Practically human lung tissue explants and organoids will be phenotypically characterized by confocal and live cell imaging.


In silico alternatives – virtual patients and virtual lab towards patient centric drug discovery

The topic of alternatives to animal testing is always strongly associated with in vitro toxicology and human-on-a-chip platforms. However, the importance, potential and current implementation of in silico methods are scarcely known although those methods already contribute valuably to the translation of new therapies.

This course aims at presenting the diversity and range of in silico methods including computer-aided drug design (CADD), predictive toxicology and computational systems pharmacology as well as the trend towards complex systems – virtual patients.

How can magnetic resonance imaging contribute to the 3Rs in animal research?

This lecture will give an overview of small animal MRI methods available today and current state of the art. It will focus on how imaging can contribute to reduce animal numbers through longitudinal study designs and refine animal research through the replacement of invasive histological methods by noninvasive imaging under anesthesia.

The ex vivo model of the isolated perfused and ventilated mouse lung and other in vitro models in lung research

In this seminar, the ex vivo model of the isolated perfused and ventilated mouse lung as well as other in vitro models will be presented using examples from lung research. Advantages and disadvantages of the methods will be pointed out in order to discuss their suitability for reducing or replacing animal experiments for answering specific research questions.


Animal Welfare I: Refinement

Refinement of animal experiments aims at modifying husbandry or experimental procedures in a way that enhances animal welfare. Since Refinement plays a very important role regarding animal experiments, but is the most underrepresented area of the 3Rs in funding agencies, Charité 3R has provided in 2018 and 2019 financial support for improving the refinement at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. In this course, different projects from the first funding period will be presented, dealing with non-invasive measurement of temperature or cardiac output or the stress less monitoring of the animals’ health status. 

Animal Welfare II: Animal Welfare Officers

In many areas of biomedical and translational research, animal experiments play an important role. Still, every experiment using animals needs to be planned considering a broad spectrum of aspects, from statistics to animal welfare. Animal welfare officers are accompanying researchers in the process from the experimental idea to the implementation. This course will present the different tasks and sometimes challenges of the daily work of animal welfare officers, bridging between legislation, research and animal welfare.