In 2016, about 340 000 laboratory animals were used in Flanders and Brussels for diverse scientific and educational purposes. However, the use of laboratory animals is challenged due to ethical, economic and scientific concerns. Over the last years, much progress has been made in the field of alternative methods to animal testing and many valuable in chemico, in silico and in vitro methods have been developed. Unfortunately, knowledge on alternative methods is extremely scattered and communication on the topic between different research institutes is often lacking.
In order to centralize the existing knowledge and make it more accessible to both researchers and the general public, the Flemish and Brussels government have launched a joint initiative, RE-Place. This project, coordinated by the Scientific Institute of Public Health (WIV) and the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), consists of 3 phases: (1) an exploratory survey to identify the experts that are currently using alternative methods to animal testing (available in NL and EN through the RE-Place website: www.RE-Place.be), (2) the set-up of an online tool to collect details on alternative methods, and (3) the compilation of an easy to use database, integrating all the acquired information. Importantly, all steps of the project are carried out in close collaboration with the members of the RE-Place steering committee, which consists of experts from academia, industry and government institutions, all with expertise in the field of alternative methods to animal testing. Furthermore, the European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL-ECVAM) is also involved in the RE-Place project.
Once developed, the RE-Place database, will enable experts from different fields (e.g. science, regulation, industry, ethical committees and animal welfare bodies) to connect with peers and possibly engage in new collaborations. Overall, the database will be a useful tool to address questions such as: which types of alternative methods do currently exist in Flanders and Brussels? Is the legislation up to date? What is a realistic vision towards the future? In a later stage, the RE-Place database could be further extended to a broader platform, stimulating the development of new techniques, methods and strategies and supporting education and training.