Interview with Dr. Jenny Sandström (3RCC)
Why did you decide to accept the position as director and what are your goals?
I had already spent some years working in research management at the Swiss Centre for Applied Human Toxicology (SCAHT) and the vacancy as executive director of the 3RCC seemed ideal to me. The principle of the 3Rs was a central part of my earlier career as researcher – also in the research programmes that I had the privilege to develop at the SCAHT. What excites me at 3RCC is that I’m in a position to influence the research landscape in Switzerland. I want to achieve progress to the improvement of science and strengthening of animal welfare. The organization has a unique structure with a very diverse internal stakeholder group. My principal personal goals are steadily to expand on existing collaborative projects and find solutions with a broad impact.
How is the 3Rs strategy in Switzerland progressing?
Founding the 3RCC was an important step towards addressing the challenges of implementing the 3Rs in Switzerland more robustly. While the 3Rs Foundation funded many high quality research projects in the past, research alone is not enough – educational work and communication are just as important. The complexity of the nationally coordinated effort to promote the 3Rs needs our institution. We are learning from projects in other countries, such as the NC3Rs in the UK. This has now been successfully established, but it takes time and dedication to arrive at a point that is recognized as progress. With the engagement and passion of our board, I am confident that we can achieve a lot! Research in 2021 is completely different from research in 1959, when the principle of the 3Rs was first described. The aim of the 3RCC is to make the latest scientific trends and developments available in Switzerland.
Why are animals so important for medical research?
Although the level of knowledge among the global research community has grown enormously, we must retain a sense of modesty: we are also aware, after all, that there is an awful lot we do not know. All research models have their limits, and what counts in research is the scientific question that is posed. While we have certain technological options at our disposal to answer some questions using models that do not involve animal experiments, some questions are just too complex to resolve with research models that dispense with the use of animals. The complexity of the live organism can often not be adequately replicated by artificial means. Especially since animals play an important part in biomedical research today, we are searching tirelessly for alternatives to animal experiments. For this reason we are steadily encouraging and promoting the development of new, complex methods, such as organoids and multi-organ-on-a-chip technologies. Some questions are just too complex to resolve with research models that dispense with the use of animals.
So, is the 3RCC aiming to cease research with animals?
We have to reflect on the principle of the 3Rs – replace whenever possible and, if not, reduce the number of experiments and the level of stress to a minimum. Technological progress will steadily widen the options for replacement. Our aim is to promote the 3Rs for better animal welfare and a better quality of science in Switzerland by changing the mindset, ensuring good 3Rs practice and building networks for science. I will always stand up for a strict application of the principle of the 3Rs. A ban on animal experiments, however, is not part of this agenda. Doing without animal experiments entirely is not possible today, and nor will it be in the coming decades.