“FHML must give animal laboratory users a perspective”

“FHML must give animal laboratory users a perspective”

Renovation of the current animal testing centre or new biomedical centre?

18-10-2021

The Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences (FHML) will give more clarity before 1 January: will there be a new biomedical centre (BMC) or is the present laboratory animal facility (CPV) going to be renovated? The cost of a new centre has risen to such a level that FHML recently decided to investigate the latter option. Important in all this is the fact that the list of requirements is exactly the same for both options. In the meantime, those who carry out animal tests just want clarity.

The news that the faculty board sees possibilities in the renovation of the existing animal testing centre, in the basement and part of the ground floor of Universiteitssingel 50, came as a surprise for the researchers, says Ludwig Dubois, chairman of the animal testing policy committee. This includes representatives from all groups (the schools, research institutes and the head of CPV) who deal with laboratory animals. They had to read about the news in Observant. “That was a little like a punch in the face, certainly because many worked hard on the plans for the BMC.”

According to faculty council member Clarice Soogelee, not even CPV head Andreas Teubner was informed. Teubner later corrects this, he did know about it. It is unfortunate that it was done in this way, admitted dean Annemie Schols during the latest faculty council meeting, all the more so since she said to the council in the last meeting that there was “no news” with regard to the BMC. Nevertheless, she said several times that communication by the board was “carefully considered”.

What also played a role, said deputy dean Nanne de Vries during the meeting, is that “we were told from the very beginning that renovation of the CPV was not possible”. Just before the summer – after a period of ten years (see text box) – it appeared possible after all. De Vries: “Honestly, for me it was quite a shock.”

Frightening

The council didn’t spend too much time on the matter and Dubois would also prefer to look ahead, because “when you get past that initial disappointment, it is understandable that alternatives are looked at. It is a lot of money”. The latter is certainly true. “Frightening,” says Jos Prickaerts, vice dean of animal research and valorisation, how much the cost of building a new biomedical centre has risen, in an interview with him and Teubner. He doesn’t want to give exact figures, but we are talking millions more than the estimated original budget of 22 million euro. “During the negotiations, figures were mentioned that made you think: are we talking about the same building?,” adds Andreas Teubner, head of CPV.

So, renovation as an alternative. But what about all the wonderful plans for a new building? The 2,400 square metres of space, proper pedestrian routes to reduce the risk of infection as much as possible, facilities located in such a way that animals need to be moved as little as possible, new equipment? “We won’t be using less to get things done,” says Prickaerts. “The point of departure is that the list of requirements for the BMC is adopted exactly as it is. We are looking into that at the moment: is it feasible from a functional and technical point of view and what are the costs involved?” 

Logistical puzzle

The logistical feasibility will also be looked at. UNS 50, where the CPV is currently located, will be renovated anyway. Departments that would have to move because of that, were – in previous plans – going to be housed in the CPV spaces; by that time, the new BMC would have been complete. The present laboratory research must also be able to continue during the renovations. A puzzle, say Teubner and Prickaerts but “we are not the first laboratory centre to renovate, we can learn from others,” says Teubner. “I previously worked in Aachen, where I experienced the same thing.” 

Laboratory animal users aren’t too bothered about which choice is made, says Dubois. “The most important thing now is that the faculty gives us a perspective. Whatever option will be chosen, give us a plan and a timeline. Don’t put the decision off for another five years, otherwise you will lose good researchers. We need to be able to carry out innovative research.” That is not possible now, according to Dubois. The CPV meets the legal requirements but is really in need of renewal. “If you look at things like imaging, we are working with equipment that is over ten years old. Not giving people a perspective causes unrest.”  

Priority

Prickaerts also feels the urgency. “If you look at the FHML theses alone, 10 to 20 per cent of those are based on laboratory research. And much more is linked to it indirectly. Those are impressive numbers. If we go for this option, renovations will start as quickly as possible.” This means that other departments at UNS 50 will possibly have to wait. Should the choice be for a new building after all, that will be a “financial challenge,” says Prickaerts.

BMC history so far

2011: The first mention of a new animal laboratory centre is in the budget for 2012. It is expected to be finished by 2014.

2014: Protests against tests on large dogs. The university decides to no longer carry out this kind of testing. The list of requirements, drawn up by a committee led by former associate professor Gerard Majoor, is adapted to the circumstances.

2015/2016: The Majoor plan is completed, but is considered too complex and too expensive. Professor Leon de Windt, now BMC project leader, is asked by the faculty board to take a critical look.

2018: De Windt presents a completely new plan for the BMC.

2019: The building permit is applied for and approved. Moving into the new building is expected to occur in 2021.

2021: Because of the strongly increased building costs, the board is considering renovation of the current CPV building instead of building a new one. Should they still opt for a new building, it is expected that the BMC will only be ready, at the earliest, by 2024.

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: bmc,animal testing,animal research,lab,cpv

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