Avoiding & Reducing Severe Suffering
This is clearly critical to tackling severe suffering, so it is essential not to become complacent about implementing refinement. Refinement is not a ‘one-off’ event at the project planning stage, nor is it a matter of just following in-house refinement protocols. There may be new information and approaches outside your institution, and you may need to search for these. Communicating about refinement should be two-way, and it is especially important for scientists to share good practice with their colleagues and peers.
APPROACHES TO REFINEMENT
Refinement begins with reviewing and considering the lifetime experiences of each animal at the project planning stage, with input from people with different expertise including the scientist, the veterinarian, and animal technologists. The AWERB, AWB, IACUC or AEC should be able to provide useful input.
Major aims are to:
Determine indicators of suffering that are tailored to the species, strain (if appropriate) and procedure for day-to-day welfare assessment
Sources of information
The literature – a search for [disease], [animal model], [species] and [welfare] or [refinement] can be a useful starting point as well as dedicated discussion forums such as COMPMED, LAREF and VOLE (these require membership). The person responsible for ensuring that staff have access to species-relevant information within each establishment should be able to provide additional information (this is the Named Information Officer in the UK). Expert working group reports are available for some severe procedures; for example, RSPCA-convened expert working groups have produced reports on refining procedures involving seizures, convulsions and epilepsy; experimental allergic encephalomyelitis; sepsis; and rheumatoid arthritis
REVIEWING AND CONSIDERING THE LIFETIME EXPERIENCES OF EACH ANIMAL
There is huge potential for reducing suffering and improving welfare by thinking carefully – from the animal’s point of view – about how every event during each animal’s lifetime experience can be optimally refined
Capture from the wild
Marking for identification
Handling and restraint
Effects of procedures
Rehoming or release
DEALING WITH CONCERNS ABOUT CONFOUNDS
In some research areas, there may be concerns that refinement might conflict with the experimental endpoint. For example, in rheumatoid arthritis research, there is debate around whether analgesia can be given to animals experiencing joint pain, in case this will interfere with the inflammatory process.
But a wide range of factors should be considered when deciding whether refinement might introduce confounds, and if so how to deal with this. In arthritis studies, uncontrolled pain and the inability to express natural behaviours are also confounding factors – which could have a greater negative effect on data than providing analgesia.
For scientists, it is critically important to research, and contribute to, current thinking about the impact of refinement on an experimental paradigm, for example by reviewing the literature, discussing with colleagues, the veterinarian and animal technologists, and including refinements in the method section of your publications. Open minds are essential – if there are any questions about the effects on animal welfare or the science, the course of action should be to evaluate these and carefully consider the results.