Animal Husbandry and Welfare
Most of the animals we use in experiments come from our own breeding, but some also come from specialized, officially controlled breeders or other research institutes. Trained, experienced animal keepers, together with a veterinarian, trainees and service staff, ensure that the animals are kept in a manner that takes into account the diverse needs of the respective laboratory animals. The husbandry conditions comply with the legal requirements and in some cases go well beyond them.
We keep mice in plastic cages with free access to food and water. Nest-building material made of paper towels contributes to thermoregulation and allows mother mice to optimally care for their young. Cardboard rolls and wood branches provide species-appropriate environmental enrichment so that the animals can act out their natural behaviors. Trained staff, husbandry conditions and elaborate health checks offer our animals protection from pathogens and stress factors.
Further information on the mouse as a model organism is found here.
Zebrafish are often kept in aquariums in family groups or larger groups. Activated carbon filters, biological filters and irradiation with UV light remove suspended solids, pollutants and pathogens. The water in the aquariums passes through the filters four to six times an hour, and a large portion is replaced daily with fresh water. This complex water treatment and fully automated climate and lighting technology keep water quality, water temperature and the day-night rhythm constant.
Further information on the zebrafish as a model organism is found here.
Rats are only used in our research to obtain monoclonal antibodies and are also only kept in small numbers for the training of animal caretakers. The housing conditions are similar to those for mice, but much larger cages are used.
We keep rabbits only in very small numbers and sporadically for the production of antibodies. Again, specialized cages are used, which are adapted to the needs of rabbits. Moreover, since rabbits are social animals, they are not kept individually.
Institutions in which animal experiments are conducted on vertebrate animals, vertebrate animals are killed for scientific purposes, or procedures and treatments are performed on vertebrate animals for other scientific purposes must appoint one or more animal welfare officers and report the appointment.
The animal welfare officers ensure compliance with regulations, conditions and requirements in the interest of animal welfare and advises the persons involved in animal experiments and the keeping of laboratory animals. This includes, for example, that the animal welfare officers already pay attention to the planning of experiments to see whether the purpose pursued cannot also be achieved by other methods or procedures. If there is no alternative to animal experimentation, the animal welfare officers ensure that the pain, suffering or damage to the animals is limited to the minimum necessary. The animal welfare officers also comment on each application for approval of an animal experiment and work internally towards the development and introduction of procedures and means to avoid or limit animal experiments.
Animal welfare officers are an important link between the licensing authority and the applicants. Only persons with a university degree in veterinary medicine can be appointed as animal welfare officers. They must have the expertise and reliability required to perform their duties.
One focus of the German Animal Welfare Act (TierSchG) and the Animal Welfare Experimental Animal Ordinance (TierSchVersV) is the consistent implementation and further development of the so-called "3R principle" (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) to avoid, reduce and improve the use of animals for scientific purposes.
The Animal Protection Act formulates a very strict set of criteria without which no animal experiment may be carried out. All employees who work with animals must provide a corresponding certificate of competence.
Before conducting animal experiments, an application for approval must be submitted to the North Rhine-Westphalia State Agency for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection.
After a formal and substantive review, the application is then approved or rejected. An application must be submitted for each animal experiment. Not only the experiments, but also the animal husbandry must be approved by the authorities and are monitored by the veterinary offices.
In accordance with the new requirements of the German Animal Welfare Act, which came into force in 2013 in a new version, the Animal Welfare Committee is also active at the Institute as an internal committee, which is made up of the animal welfare officers, scientists involved in animal experiments, animal house management, the Institute’s veterinarian and animal care takers. This committee supports the animal welfare officers with the aim of optimally taking into account all animal welfare concerns.
Strict regulations control animal experimental research in Germany like hardly any other area of animal husbandry and use. Every animal experiment on a vertebrate animal is subject to approval, and the approval authorities check in each individual case whether the experiment is indispensable or whether the knowledge sought can also be obtained by other means. All animal experiments at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine must be approved by the North Rhine-Westphalia State Office for Nature, Environment and Consumer Protection.
In addition, the Animal Welfare Experimental Animal Ordinance specifies the details for working with laboratory animals, to which we also strictly adhere. Representatives of the responsible authorities have access to the experimental facilities and animal stables at all times.