UGC recommends an end to animal dissections and the use of computer models

Who has not heard stories of students losing consciousness while conducting a laboratory experiment involving dissecting an animal or insect?

Practicals, being a pre-requisite, force the students to carry out the dissection, irrespective of how uncomfortable they are, or how cruel they find the whole procedure.

Soon undergraduate students will no longer be required to dissect animals and dissection will be optional for postgraduate students.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) – the apex regulatory body for higher education in India – has published official recommendations calling for an end to animal dissection and animal experimentation for university and college zoology and life sciences courses in a phased manner.

Members of the expert committee that advised UGC estimate that this move will save the lives of approximately 19 million animals each year. “By eliminating animal dissection and phasing out animal experimentation, Indian's top university governing body is making sure that students use the most modern education tools possible, meaning computer models over animals,” said People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India Science Policy Advisor Chaitanya Koduri. PETA was one of those organisations that had spearheaded the campaign.

Medically speaking…

In 2009, the Medical Council of India (MCI) officially amended its Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) regulations to state that “experimental work on animals can be demonstrated by Computer Aided Education,” clearing the way for medical colleges to eliminate their use of animals in student-training laboratories.

Though this policy change allows medical schools to adopt completely non-animal training curricula, many MBBS programmes in India still use live mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits and frogs in physiology and pharmacology classroom experiments. This, when 95 per cent of programmes in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. use didactic methods, state-of-the-art human patient simulators (HPS), supervised clinical practice and interactive computer-aided learning (CAL) simulations to train students.

Alternatives

Recently, to familiarise medical faculty in India with how modern, MCI-approved simulation training methods can replace animal use in MBBS classroom laboratories, PETA India sponsored a medical education workshop in Bangalore. Speaking on ‘Computer With Mouse – A New Experimental Animal for Learning' at the workshop on ‘Modernising Medical Training,' David Dewhurst, professor of e-Learning, College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh, said, “Faculty of medical education have a crucial role to play in deciding learning outcomes, especially when animals are replaced with alternative means in physiology and pharmacology training.”

“All over the world, there are ethical objections to the use of animals in medical training. We must understand that there are good alternatives available, which have proved to be educationally effective,” he said, speaking from the experience of using computer-aided simulators since 1985 in place of animals for teaching his students. As of 2009, medical colleges in the U.K. used 1,703 animals for training, he added.

Prof. Dewhurst demonstrated some in vitro and in vivo simulations of rat blood pressure, Lagendorff Heart and other procedures. The programmes use mathematical models and algorithmic structures to respond to the users' inputs. “For instance, we can determine the effect of a particular dosage of a drug when administered. The programme will simulate the corresponding reactions, thereby minimising the need to use animals,” he explained.

He said that the hardest part was convincing the teaching staff to adopt non-animal models and alternatives. “I understand some old-school faculty will resist the use of computer simulators. All it takes is some convincing. It is not merely about saving animals. Computer-aided alternatives are effective in diagnosing students' learning problems and save a lot of time,” he added.