Graphic and animated reduction in use of animals in research

1 November 2002

The use of computer graphics and animation has significantly reduced the number of animals dissected by veterinary students as part of their training.

Over the last ten years, Professor Alex Davies of the Institute for Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at Massey University, has been exploring computer technology as an alternative to using animals in research and teaching.

Professor Davies was invited to present his findings at the Fourth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences held in New Orleans in August 2002.

His paper, Technological Advances that Enhance Teaching Using Animals, and the Application of the Three Rs, describes how computer-based programmes using a variety of techniques from interactive software, computer graphics and animations to a Veterinary Virtual Museum, can reduce the numbers of animals used for dissection.

Professor Davies says he was motivated by a desire to explore ways to improve classical methods of teaching anatomy as well as an awareness of the ethical issues involved in using live animals and student expectations of alternatives being available.

It was this awareness that led to a funding partnership in 1994 with the New Zealand Fund for Humane Research, which sponsors and supports research into viable alternative techniques to replace living animals in scientific investigations.

Professor Davies project was one of the few to meet the strict requirements of the Fund which does not support any research involving manipulation of living animals. His proposal to use either archival material or non-invasive techniques such as radiography and ultrasound easily fitted the funding criteria.

However, despite the value of computer-based programmes, Professor Davies says there are no plans to do away with dissection altogether.

"Although we can teach anatomy just as well, and in many instances much better, using computer images and interactive programmes, as long as students need to train to care for real animals, a fully alternative system is not viable if we are not to lower the standard of teaching," he says.

"We are also using the animals that we do kill much more efficiently than previously and are enhancing our ability to teach anatomy on live animals, so that most horse and cattle anatomy is now taught by sight, palpation and visualisation or ‘informed imagination’".

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