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Important research on dental implants sparks debate

News: Feb 22, 2019

The University of Gothenburg is one of the world’s foremost academic environments within odontological research, ranked high internationally and with strong support from patient organisations. Like all research, this work is under constant scrutiny. At the moment, public opinion, including on social media, is against a dental implant study.

There is criticism against the testing on dogs that is performed in the study and the research itself is also questioned, as well as the need for developing better dental implants. We do understand how animal testing can arouse strong emotions, but we also would like to stress the fact that periodontitis is still a major public health issue, and the research conducted here is crucial to many people.

It may be difficult to imagine the problems arising from severe periodontitis, or following cancer treatment that causes a loss of speech. Not being able to speak, or eat with other people, frequently leads to complete isolation.

Research on implants has taken huge leaps forward since the seventies. But there are still a number of serious problems to solve. Dental implant surgery is a major procedure, and around 15 percent of patients suffer severe inflammation of the surrounding tissue. It is problematic, as it may lead to loss of the implant, which can be difficult to replace.

Different research methods

The research is conducted in an overarching system, comprising a combination of experimental and clinical research. The experimental methods include materials testing with cell culture techniques, while the implant’s osseointegration and ability to withstand complications are investigated using animal testing.

Using dogs provides unique opportunities as it enables us to simulate the human oral cavity and jaw, and the same methods that are used on patients can be implemented. It also enables us to take tissue samples, which is not possible on patients.

The animals are always given an analgesic before any potentially painful procedures. The animals are put down by veterinarians. In order to answer the questions being posed, the current study does not allow for blood samples and biopsies to the extent required, without putting the dogs down.

In general, the implementation of new and animal-free methods in medical research is becoming more common, which is also true for the implant research in Gothenburg. The use of cell cultures and biopsies from humans is also increasing. Animal testing is also replaced by refined planning and advanced statistical methods.

Animal testing is strictly regulated

Animal testing is strictly regulated under Swedish law and EU laws on protection of animals. All animal testing must be approved by an animal testing ethics committee, under the Swedish Board of Agriculture. The committee comprises researchers, lawyers and laymen.

Before each study involving animal testing, the methods must be weighed against each other. During the application process, the principal researcher presents the considerations that have been made, and why the testing cannot be replaced by other methods.

Once the scope of the project is determined, the methods cannot be changed. Science, ethics and agreements with research funders all necessitate compliance with the plan. This applies to research in general, with or without animal testing. For example, it is not permissible to add new test subjects to a study, or link data files in a way that was not originally planned.

The management of the animals is supervised by the County Administrative Board, which conducts regular inspections. The animals must be well cared for and be held in an appropriate environment. Regarding the dogs in the current study, they are housed in premises that meet all the legal requirements and are approved by the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

The animal handlers spend a lot of time with the dogs, ensuring that they are well and are stimulated and get excercise. They can be outdoors as much as they like and are walked every day. If the animals become ill or are injured, they are treated immediately.

Reduce, refine and replace animal testing

The University of Gothenburg and other higher education institutions conduct research involving animal testing. The studies are crucial for the development of new pharmaceuticals, and many treatments that we currently take for granted – antibiotics, transplants, vaccines – have been developed through animal studies.

We acknowledge that we have to be clearer in our communication about why and how we conduct research and how we are working to reduce, refine and replace animal testing. It is also important to explain why animal testing is carried out, and how it contributes to the accumulation of knowledge in research. This paves the way for a serious discussion about what we want to change and should change about the studies.

Dean and Pro-Dean, Sahlgrenska Academy and Head of Department, the Institute of Odontology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg

University of Gothenburg petitioned to end use of dogs in research

Animal experimentation at the University of Gothenburg

Photography: University of Gothenburg

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Originally published on: sahlgrenska.gu.se

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