29 April, 2021 13:27

RSF and DFG held an online seminar on research bioethics

On April 28, the Russian Science Foundation's working group on research bioethics discussed with DFG experts a set of issues related to research involving laboratory animals.
Credit: RSF Press Office
On the German side, DFG best practices in this area were presented by Sonja Ihle, Programme Director for Life Sciences: Molecular and Organismic Biology, member of the DFG Permanent Senate Commission on Animal Protection and Experimentation. Cornelia Exner, professor, animal welfare officer at the University of Marburg, who runs the secretariat of the DFG Permanent Senate Commission on Animal Protection and Experiments, spoke about the bioethical examination at the level of German organizations.

In Germany, animal research is strictly regulated by national legislation, which was harmonized in 2013 in accordance with updated European Commission standards. There is a clear understanding in the German academic community that a violation of the principles of bioethics regarding the organization of experiments involving laboratory animals makes the quality and value of the scientific results doubtful and is a sign of the scientist's irresponsible behavior. In addition to the organizations carrying out and funding such research, the European Commission exercises ethical control through its projects. The practice of peer review in international scientific journals, in which the results of research are published by German scientists, also greatly contributes to the promotion of the idea of the responsibility of a researcher in relation to the ethical standards of scientific experiment.

In Germany, the examination of compliance with the ethical principles of research is a systemic process, engaging several information, ethical and legal instruments. The first is the training and certification of researchers who work with laboratory animals. In addition, a procedure has been developed for authorizing, or obtaining permission, to start an experiment involving laboratory animals. Regulation in this area is provided by government agencies responsible for the implementation of the national Animal Welfare Act. An important element of the content of the grant proposal submitted to the DFG is the block of "experiment ethics", where the applicant describes in detail the design of the experiment, its compliance with the 3R principles (replacement, reduction, refinement; more about this principle is in an interview with Natalia Shock, head of the RSF working group). The DFG Senate Commission on Animal Protection and Experimentation is advising both researchers applying for funding and universities and research organizations that need additional advice on research bioethics. This commission develops key guidelines for researchers on good research practice and the ethics of animal experimentation to be followed by German grantholders.

At the same time, a significant negative side of current German practice is the authorization period for an experiment involving animals. The reporting forms are the same across all German organizations and consist of about 30 pages, while the process of obtaining such authorization and ethical approval may take from three months up to a year. Today DFG is actively working to reduce and to optimize this procedure, since the timing of the examination significantly affects the progress of research. 

The study of best international practices in the field of research bioethics should always be in attention of research funding organizations and the subject of further expert analysis aimed to develop principles and standards for research funded by the Russian Science Foundation.

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