Information about animal experiments

Experiments performed on laboratory animals in biomedical research give us knowledge that can be applied to human and animal disease prevention, treatment or cure.

Experiments performed on laboratory animals in biomedical research give us knowledge that can be applied to human and animal disease prevention, treatment or cure.

  • Laboratory animals are bred for the purpose and the vast majority is rodents, mainly mice.
  • Wild, farm or pet animals may be used in the study only if there is scientific justification that the animal species concerned is the only animal species suitable for a project carried out for an essential biomedical purpose or when looking for improvements for the living conditions of the species.
  • Animals are used in the studies where it is required by authorities that, before a new medicine or chemicals are approved for market, it must be tested further. These studies provide information on new substances and on how to protect the safety of people, animals and their environment from  adverse impacts.

In biological studies, measurements and observations are made on different levels: from the molecular and cellular level to the living organism and its environment.

  • in vitro studies – performed with cells or biological molecules studied outside their normal biological context which show ongoing processes on the cellular level
  • in vivo studies – performed on living organisms, usually animals but including also humans and plants

The complexity of the biological phenomena, their impact on heredity and environmental interactions must be known and understood in all levels, which is why in vivo studies must be conducted in order to obtain the necessary information, e.g. the impact of administered drug on the animal’s bodily functions.

At the end of the study, the animal is usually euthanised and its organs, tissues and cells provide more information about the test drug’s impact on molecules.

Use of animals and ethics

The use of animals in research is considered ethically challenging even though the test results are beneficial for humans, animals and their environment.  Experimental procedures, intentionally induced diseases, searching for new treatment techniques and adverse effects to testing may in some cases cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animals. 

Society tends to control and ensure by legislation that animals do not suffer unnecessarily.

The researchers must always justify the necessity of the study, choose and perform all procedures so as to cause minimum pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animal. Procedures that involve serious injuries that may cause severe pain (surgery) shall not be performed without anesthesia and post-operative analgesia should be provided. Animals must be euthanised in a humane manner, with minimum pain, suffering and distress.

The government appoints the project authorisation board that processes project authorisations. The authorisation to carry out a project involving animal experiments is granted only when:

  • the project has an approved purpose and there is no other scientifically reliable practical method to achieve the desired result without the use of animals
  • the expected benefit from the project to humans, animals or the environment is in an ethically justifiable considering the harm caused to the animals
  • the project is planned so as to enable procedures to be performed in the most humane and environmentally sensitive manner possible
  • the number of animals used in the project is reduced to a minimum without compromising the objectives of the project.
Statistics of the use of the animals

The use of animals is strictly controlled and authorities collect statistics on their use in research institutions which provides information on where and how the animals are currently used.Statistical information on the use of animals in experiments is reported and publicly available.

​The vast majority of animals are used in basic biological research. The next highest number of animals is in research and development of products and devices for human medicine and dentistry and for veterinary medicine. 

In Finland, approximately 1 % of the animals were used in toxicological and other safety evaluations (including safety evaluation of products and devices for human medicine and dentistry and for veterinary medicine).

Since 1985, animals have not been used in testing the safety of cosmetics in Finland. The cosmetic industry has used and uses raw materials, whose safety has been studied previously in another context.

Alternative methods to animal experimentation

Animal experiments may be performed only if there is no other scientifically reliable practical method to achieve the desired result which does not require the use of an animal.

​If it is impossible to achieve the desired result, animal experiments must be replaced even in part with some other scientifically reliable method that does not require the use of an animal or with a method which allows reducing the total number of animals or the pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm caused to the animal concerned.

  • For educational and training purposes, living animals are often replaced by audio-visual technologies or developed diagnostic instrumentation and laboratory methods.
  • At the early stages of drug development, initial estimates on the effects of the new drug molecule at the cellular level may be based on advanced Quantitative Structure–Activity Relationship models (QSAR).
  • Bacterial cultures are used in testing drug or chemical mutagenicity.
  • Preliminary toxicity of substances on cellular and tissue level is studied on cell and tissue cultures.

Using living animals for toxicity testing of pharmaceuticals and in other chemical safety assessment is considered as the most difficult ethical issue in the research, even if the test results are beneficial for humans, animals and environment.

  • Safety tests have been developed since the 1980s by implementing the so-called alternative methods. European organisation ECVAM (The European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing) validate methods which reduce, refine or replace the use of animals for safety testing and efficacy/potency testing of chemicals, biological agents and vaccines.
  • Some alternative methods have already been approved and they have replaced animal testing in various research institutes.

Safety Tests of Cosmetic Ingredients

  • EU Directive prohibits, in general, the use of animals in the safety testing of cosmetic ingredients.
  • Moreover, EU countries are forbidden to import cosmetic products that have been tested by using living animals.
  • Products for daily hygiene are also included to the group of cosmetic products.

Statistical information on the use of animals in experiments in Europe have been collected by the authorities since 1985 and, according to the statistics, no vertebrate animals were used in Finland for safety testing of cosmetic ingredients.

Progress in medicine

Medicine has developed a great deal in the last century and mainly because of research where laboratory animals were used.

Systematic breeding of wild mice and rats that started in the early 1900s in a few research centers in the United States and Europe led to the spread of their descendants to other research facilities around the world.

Medical advances in the 20th century

  • the 1920s – insulin treatment for diabetes
  • the 1930s – surgical anesthesia, diphtheria vaccine
  • the 1940s – broad-spectrum antibiotics, pertussis vaccine, cardiopulmonary bypass pump (called also pump oxygenator or heart-lung machine)
  • the 1950s – kidney transplantation, artificial heart valves and pacemakers, polio vaccine, drugs regulating blood pressure
  • the 1960s – corneal transplants, measles vaccine, heart bypass surgery, antipsychotic drugs
  • the 1970s – drugs for stomach ulcers, asthma, treatment for leukemia
  • the 1980s – drugs blocking draft rejection, computed tomography in diagnostic, development in the care of premature infants, antiviral drugs, beginning of the gene technology development
  • the 1990s – molecular biology, gene therapy, development of highly specific drugs, bioactive materials, development of new imaging techniques
  • the 2000s – completion of human gene map, stem cells and nanotechnology terapies