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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

Genome editing in animal research


Recent developments in genome editing tools, along with limits in the translational potential of rodent models of human disease, have spurred renewed biomedical research interest in large mammals like nonhuman primates, pigs, and dogs. Such scientific developments raise ethical issues about the use of these animals in comparison with smaller mammals, such as mice and rats.

 What are the ethical and regulatory implications of a trend toward using „larger“ animals instead of rodents? The professional and ethical framework for responsible conduct of animal research is widely recognized as the “three Rs”: Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement. This projects points to the tension between reduction (decreasing the overall numbers of animals used) and relative replacement (the use of mice and rats instead of species with more “complex” capacities) that is implied by such a tradeoff.

To examine these ethical questions, we first consider standard (or “orthodox”) approaches, including ethics oversight within biomedical research communities, and critical theoretical reflections on animal research, including rights-based and utilitarian approaches. We argue that oversight of biomedical research offers guidance on the profession’s permitted uses of animals within a research setting and orthodox approaches to animal ethics questions when and whether animals should be used in biomedicine; however, neither approach sufficiently investigates the nuances of ethical practices within the research setting.

To fill this lacuna, we consider a virtue ethical approach to the use of specific animal models in biomedicine. From this perspective, we argued that limitations on flourishing for large mammals in a research setting, as well as potential human-animal bonds, are two sources of likely ethical tensions in animal care and use in the context of larger mammals. 



genome editing, animal research oversight, 3R, Harm-Benefit analysis (HBA), animal research ethics



Prof. Rebecca Walker, University of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, US


Messerli Foundation

Project duration