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The Rise of Alternatives

Technology is paving the way for advances in science and medicine, and providing opportunities for learning, through the use of alternatives. From Organ-on-a-Chip to a virtual dissection table, superior methods to the traditional use of animals for education and research and being created and implemented.

In science classrooms, dissection has been a popular activity since the 1960s – but with advances in technology and the development of pedagogically sound alternatives, is this practice still necessary?

What is an Alternative?

The term alternative was coined in the late 1970s to describe methods that replace or reduce the number of animals used in science. Alternatives to animals in both research and education include models, simulators, videos, virtual reality and many others. It has been shown in many peer-reviewed studies that alternatives are equal to, or better than, classical animal dissection and are often more cost effective.

Who is using Alternatives?

Animal based science in Canada, and much of the world, is guided by an ethical framework provided through implementation of the 3Rs principle (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement). The 3Rs are the cornerstone of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) that sets, maintains, and oversees the implementation of standards for the ethics and care of animals in science nationally. The CCAC works to ensure that animal-based science in Canada occurs only when necessary; and if there is a valid alternative that does not require the use of animal, then there is an obligation to use that alternative.

The University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine is well-known for their use of alternatives which include models and simulators to help veterinary students learn how to practice medicine on a variety of animal species while reducing stress to live animals, and the overall number of animals used. Lakeland College’s new Animal Health Clinic also features state-of-the-art simulators and models.

What’s out there for teachers:

Our website features a number of alternatives including  online dissection simulations, apps & other alternatives including 3-D models, and number of simulators and apps specific to human anatomy.

What’s up-and-coming?   

Virtual Reality (VR) provides experiential learning that allows one to explore live human and animal systems. VR is being used by medical students to learn about human anatomy, and can provide surgeons the opportunity to virtually practice upcoming procedures.  As technology improves, there will be more cost effective ways for teachers to use VR for interactive and engaging learning opportunities. There are a few VR apps and videos that help students learn about the body; if you know of any others, share them with us!

With alternatives providing pedagogically effective ways of learning science outcomes, the ethical cost of killing animals for dissection may not be worth the return anymore. Visit our Dissection webpage to learn more about the ethics of dissection, student choice policies, and the pedagogical value of alternatives.

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Blog posts represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Alberta SPCA.