Over 80% of animals used in research are mice and rats. How do researchers justify the choice of animals for their research? Does the chosen species always provide the greatest epistemic benefit – or the least harm for that benefit? Researchers may also choose animals that they are familiar with, that are commonly used by their peers, or that cost the least.
Furthermore, the Swiss Animal Welfare Act stipulates that “experiments on animals higher on the evolutionary scale may only be carried out if the purpose of the experiment cannot be achieved in animal species that are lower on the evolutionary scale”. From this an implicit moral hierarchy has emerged with primates at the top, followed by dogs and cats, other larger mammals, rodents, and – at the bottom – fish. Although this hierarchy is biased by subjective human preferences (relatedness, familiarity, attractiveness) rather than based on biological evidence, researchers may shy away from using animals 'higher on the evolutionary scale' out of moral concerns, higher bureaucratic burden or fear of harassment by militant activists.
The aim of this symposium, organised by the Ethics Committee for Animal Experimentation (ECAE) of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, is to identify scientific and ethical problems in the choice of model organisms for animal experiments and raise awareness among scientists and regulators for these problems, using research on Alzheimer’s Disease as a case study. The symposium should help researchers and regulators in asking the right questions when choosing and evaluating model organisms.