For all our readers who are not familiar with EURL ECVAM's portfolio of activities, an introduction to some basic concepts is provided below.

Please also consult EURL ECVAM's web site Glossary items shown in the right-hand column of this section, under the heading 'Related Terms' (please note that the EURL ECVAM Glossary is only provided for information purposes).


DSC_6570.jpgAlternatives to animal testing

Testing consumer products for potentially harmful side effects of chemical ingredients is important for the protection of both the consumer and those involved in the manufacturing process. Laboratory animals have been widely used in the past for testing but for many years the European Union has promoted the development of alternative techniques to eliminate or minimise the use of animals.

This is an increasingly important issue as European legislation on cosmetics is gradually introducing a ban on the marketing of cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals. New legislation such as the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals (REACH) is also encouraging the use of alternative methods and the avoidance of duplicating tests. This has created incentives for the development of alternative approaches that are at least as good as animal tests and potentially more cost effective. Read more


The so-called 'Three Rs' principle (Replace, Reduce, Refine)

Increasing concern about the use of laboratory animals for toxicity studies and other effects of substances has led to widespread support of, and adherence to, the principle of the 3Rs of animal use in alternative test method development [Replacement, Reduction and Refinement], first defined by the scientists William Russell and Rex Burch in 'The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique' (1959). Regulatory authorities have endorsed the principle of the 3Rs. As a consequence, alternative test methods have been developed to replace the use of animals with non-animal systems, reduce the number of animals in a test, or refine the procedures to make them less painful or stressful to the animals under study. The Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (published on 20 October 2010) includes an explicit reference to the 3Rs principle.

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Why a EURL for alternatives to animal testing?

The European Commission strongly supports efforts to find alternative methods to testing on animals. Where this is not possible the number of animals used must be reduced or the testing methods refined so as to cause the least harm to the animals. In order to boost the development of alternative methods, Directive 2010/63/EU  has been adopted in 2010, requiring the establishment of a Reference Laboratory at European Union level. The Laboratory, the EURL ECVAM, is responsible for coordinating and promoting the development and use of alternatives to animal procedures, and continues the work so far carried out by European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM). 

Member States are required to contribute in this crucial activity by identifying and nominating suitable specialised and qualified national laboratories, as well as ensuring the promotion of alternative methods at national level.


European Union Reference Laboratories

In the context of the EU strategy aimed at improving animal health and establishing the single market for live animals and animal products, a network of European Union and National reference laboratories dealing with major animal diseases has been gradually set up. The Council of the EU and the European Commission have designated European Union reference laboratories (EURLs) with scientific and technical expertise within the areas of animal health, public health and zootechnics. The aim is of this network of laboratories is to contribute to a high quality and uniformity of analytical results. Functions and duties of the EURLs consist notably of

  • providing information on analysis methods and organising comparative tests with the national reference laboratories
  • coordinating the application of the methods and research into new analysis methods
  • organising training and advanced courses for national reference laboratory staff
  • providing scientific and technical assistance to the Commission.

Apart from these duties and functions the European Commission approves an annual working plan for each EURL specifying their tasks for the next year.

Seven EURLs are hosted by the European Commission Joint Research Centre; the first three in the list below, including EURL ECVAM, are run by the JRC-IHCP (Institute for Health and Consumer Protection):

  • EURL for feed additives
  • EURL for heavy metals in feed and food
  • EURL for mycotoxins in food and feed
  • EURL for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

in vivo methods

In vivo (Latin for "within the living") is experimentation using a whole, living organism as opposed to a partial or dead organism, or an in vitro controlled environment. Animal testing and clinic trials are two forms of in vivo research

Source: Wikipedia - See IHCP's disclaimer on linked sites


in silico methods

The expression in silico is used to mean "performed on computer or via computer simulation." The phrase was coined in 1989 as an analogy to the Latin phrases in vivo and in vitro which are commonly used in biology and refer to experiments done in living organisms and outside of living organisms, respectively.

Source: Wikipedia - See IHCP's disclaimer on linked sites


in vitro methods

The term in vitro ("in the glass") refers to the technique of performing a given experiment in a test tube, or, generally, in a controlled environment outside a living organism.In IHCP, in vitro methods are based on the use of cells or tissues which are cultured under controlled conditions in flasks and plates. Cells/tissues are exposed to chemicals and their toxic effect is measured. Increasingly, human cells are used since they better predict possible effects on humans.

Source: IHCP, In Vitro Methods Unit


Photos: The JRC-IHCP In-vitro method facilities. Copyright European Union 2010.