A bunny rabbit dead on the floor of a lab while other bunnies watch on in a lab facility. Image Credit: We Animals Media

868 Rabbits in Spinal Bone Graft Experiments: Ethical Concerns and Alternatives

Researchers at the University of New South Wales used 868 adult female New Zealand white rabbits in spinal bone graft experiments from 2016 to 2019. These procedures involved invasive surgeries to test synthetic grafting materials, leading to significant stress and suffering for the rabbits. As prey animals, rabbits experience high levels of anxiety in laboratory settings, raising ethical concerns about their use in such experiments. Advocates are urging for a shift towards animal-free research methods, like tissue engineering, to replace outdated animal models and promote more ethical scientific practices.

The surgical procedure to test various synthetic grafting materials for spinal fusion in the 868 rabbits in a total 30 experiments involved removing bone from the spine, grinding it into small pieces, combining it with various synthetic materials, and then implanting it back into the animal’s spine by syringe. The rabbits were monitored and radiographed for a period of 12 weeks to observe the bone fusion. After this time their fate is not reported. It is unlikely any survived.

As prey animals, rabbits are nervous around other animals and humans. In the laboratory setting, they are likely to become anxious and suffer increased levels of stress, with technicians taking them in and out of their cages for radiography and observation. Rabbits are sentient beings and not tools for scientific research.

Instead of outdated animal models, scientists around the world are now exploring tissue engineering to create in-vitro versions of human bones. For example, Dr Bregje de Wildt at the Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands, has, as part of her Ph.D., explored ways to grow human ‘mini-bones’ in the lab.

Please take action here by signing our action to your MP calling on funding for non-animal methods of research

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