The use of animals in research and training

Updated on:

The University of Bordeaux is extremely active in scientific research in biology and health, where advances have led to a better understanding and prevention of diseases, as well as improved patient care and treatment. In these fields, limited and regulated animal use is possible if no alternative method exists. It is still essential, for example, when it comes to studying the mechanisms of certain pathologies, understanding how the brain works or understanding the interactions that take place in complete living organisms.

Photo : Souris de laboratoire © Pixabay
Souris de laboratoire © Pixabay

Animals are sentient beings and using them should only be a last resort when the science objective requires it and no alternative is available. The use of animals must also be strictly limited and monitored by carefully trained professionals. In several areas of research, methods using animals (in vivo) and those that do not (in vitro, in silico approaches) can be used together to understand the complexity of living beings on different scales.

Animal research remains necessary, for example, to advance knowledge, prevention and treatment in fields such as oncology, cardiology, the study of respiratory diseases, the study of infectious diseases and immunology, neurobiology and the study of neurodegenerative diseases.

The in vivo method is also necessary for the development of new diagnostic modalities (such as imaging) and the acquisition of certain techniques for surgeons.

At the University of Bordeaux, the use of animals has, for example, led to major advances in deep brain stimulation, used to reduce tremors in people with Parkinson’s disease, in the discovery of molecules that are effective in the treatment of some cancers, in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, in the understanding of the importance of nutrition for health.

A carefully regulated practice

The use of animals for research purposes is governed by ethical rules and strictly regulated at both national and European level. These practices are closely monitored by the relevant authorities. The regulations in effect in France since 2013, a result of the transposition of the 2013 European Directive, protect all vertebrates, including autonomous larval or advanced foetal forms, and cephalopods. These regulations therefore apply to fish, birds and mammals, for example, but not to insects. The use of non-human primates is restricted and the use of great apes (such as chimpanzees) is banned in Europe.

Animals must come from approved breeding facilities or suppliers for defined species (such as mice, rats, zebrafish, rabbits). Any facility that breeds, supplies or uses animals must be approved by the Prefecture. A veterinarian is appointed for each facility. Regular inspections, including unannounced ones, are carried out. In addition, anyone who comes into contact with the animals (carers, technicians, engineers, researchers) must follow an initial and ongoing training programme covering regulations, ethics and animal welfare. The theoretical and practical skills of the staff involved are verified and recorded.

The “3Rs” (Replace, Reduce, Refine) form the basis of these regulations: no procedure involving animals can be carried out if an alternative method exists and meets the same scientific objective. If the use of animals proves necessary, the number of animals used must be reduced as much as possible. Finally, in order to eliminate or reduce stress and pain, living conditions, treatment and experimental methods (particularly the use of anaesthesia and analgesia) must be optimised.


The 3Rs: replace, reduce, refine


  • Use non-animal models whenever possible:
  • Computational models (in silico)
  • Physicochemical methods, cells or organoids (in vitro)
  • Use less sentient animal models (invertebrates such as fruit flies or C. elegans worms…)


  • Reduce the number of animals used and the number of studies:
  • Optimise biostatistics and experimental protocols
  • Share scientific data (open science policy and publication of negative results)
  • Share biological samples


  • Minimise constraints, stress and pain:
  • Improve the living conditions of the animals
  • Use the best anaesthesia and analgesia protocols
  • Favour non-invasive exploratory approaches (MRI, ultrasound…)
  • Implement measures that prevent the onset of stress (habituation, training…)
  • Establish appropriate endpoints based on an assessment of the animals' welfare

Any research project that requires the use of animals must receive a favourable opinion following an ethical evaluation carried out by an approved ethics committee and obtain authorisation from the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research.

Unit responsible for animal welfare

Each institution must set up a unit responsible for animal welfare. Its duties include: advising staff, ensuring that animal welfare and the 3Rs are taken into account throughout the project, checking that the project is proceeding according to plan, suggesting improvements… The unit receives advice from a veterinarian.


  • If you have a question about animal research, send an email to

The University of Bordeaux, signatory of the Transparency Charter

Each citizen has the right to comprehensive and clear information regarding the reasons for and conditions of the use of animals for scientific purposes. This is why a European database was developed. This database gathers data on the number of animals used per species, the scientific aim of projects, the nature of the projects carried out as well as the non-technical summaries of projects which are made public. National statistics are published on the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research website.

In 2023, the University of Bordeaux wished to strengthen its commitment by signing the Transparency Charter on the use of animals for scientific and regulatory purposes, which confirms the clear desire of the signatories to provide information and communicate with the general public on the use of animals for scientific purposes.

By signing this charter, the University of Bordeaux undertakes to:

  1. Explain the reasons for and conditions of the use of animals for scientific and regulatory purposes;
  2. Provide information to the general public and media via the institutions’ communication tools, including its institutional websites;
  3. Facilitate the exchange of information with the general public and the media in accordance with the procedures that will be put in place;
  4. Produce an annual document on the progress made in terms of public information.

The University of Bordeaux has therefore joined a group of public and private stakeholders in French research who have been committed since February 2021, under the aegis of Gircor, to being more transparent about their use of animal experimentation.

Useful links