InterNICHE video ‘Alternatives in Education’ text

Alternatives in Education:
new approaches for a new millennium

(beginning narration)

Education and training in the life sciences require that students learn a diversity of skills as well as the traditional knowledge base.

Graduates who enter the professions must be familiar with the technology employed in today's laboratories and clinics, and with the design and performance of experiments.

Of equal importance is the ability to communicate well with patients, and the sensitivity to appreciate complex ecological systems.

Some will also need hands-on experience of animals and animal tissue for their careers.

All students of biological science and veterinary and human medicine perform practical work to illustrate knowledge and to gain a number of these skills, practical work which for some involves dissection and animal experimentation.

But the tools and approaches used by teachers are evolving in response to developments in technology and the demands of students and society itself.

In this film, we investigate new directions in life science education, sampling classical experiments where conventional animal use has been replaced by a range of progressive alternative methods.



Dr Hans Braun:

SimNerv is a simulation of the classic nerve experiment which has been done for many years in physiology courses. I contributed to the programming of this SimSeries. I was responsible for the physiological background, for the physiological correctness of the programs. This was some years ago when we had many discussions with students who didn't want to do these experiments with animals, and finally we decided that it is no longer possible to do the experiments and we thought about alternatives.

SimNerv consists of three parts: 'wetlands', 'preparation' and 'experiments'. 'Wetlands' is to introduce the students into the program: it shows pictures of different frogs, and you can listen to the sounds they make. The second part comprises video sequences of the preparation of the frog's nerve. The third part is the main part, and presents a virtual laboratory with all the devices that are necessary to do the experiments. The students can place the two nerves in stimulating and recording electrodes, and can stimulate the nerves and do the experiments as in the real lab.

When the students do the experiments with a real nerve they are always worried that they might do something wrong, and then destroy the nerve. They would have to prepare a frog again and to use another nerve. With the

simulation program they can do the experiment properly, and by really doing it the learning is more effective.

Let's use a single stimulus to demonstrate a different effect which also shows one of the main advantages of such a program. You can use this thread to tie off the nerve at any place you choose. When you tie it off here between the stimulating and recording electrodes, the action potential will not reach the recording electrodes. What happens should be a zero line, without any action potential. And now you can do what you cannot do in the real experiment: you can remove the thread, and the nerve will respond as before.

Leif Bjellin:

At one of the InterNICHE conferences there was a demonstration of an early version of the SimNerv program. I was lucky enough to get a copy of this program, I was allowed to use it before it was generally sold. So I introduced it to the students and to my department. And it was very successful, everyone liked it, because it is a very powerful program.


I myself was very surprised how well it works. In some parts it might even be better than the real experiment.


Marie Briggman:

I highly recommend this equipment to universities. Both we teachers and the students are very content with the results.

Per Ekstrom:

As soon as you save time, as soon as you have a set-up which saves you time, then you will also save money. You can compress your schedule, you can do more experiments in one day, in one week.... so there is definitely a money-saving aspect. BioPac is a combination of measuring equipment with which you can measure a lot of things depending on how you set it up. We use it for the students to measure nerve conduction velocity on themselves. It can also be used to measure various other parameters. It really has a lot of possibilities.


First we put electrodes on the under-arm of the students. We put one at the elbow and one just beneath the hand. And then we stimulate at the elbow and we registrate the evoked nerve impulse just beneath the hand at that electrode. We can visualise these nerve impulses on the data screen.


The combination of SimNerv and BioPac has worked out very well out with the students. They see the advantages of first doing all the adjustments on the SimNerv program, and then taking that experience with them to the BioPac equipment.


I think the pedagogic value of this equipment is the great advantage.




Wolfgang Kuck

A hundred or more years ago, when the experiments with the nerve and muscle of the frog started, is a long time in the past, and now hi-tech equipment exists, delivering the same or better quality, without using animals.

The Myograph describes the interaction between the nerve and muscles, and documents the results of each test as an answer to a specified stimulus. The test person fits their right hand in the apparatus, and must find the correct position for the EMG connections, for the power sensor, and so on. Then they must find the correct position for the stimulating electrode.

On the computer, the menu offers eight experiments. When you have made your choice then you can optimise all the parameters for very good experiments in this section. The experiments work automatically. In the computer program evaluation you have the possibility to analyse the complete results of all the reactions of your body. The results are absolutely identical between biological use of a dead frog and human self-testing with the Myograph.


Hans Braun:

Students like to use the SimMuscle program much more than doing the experiments with the real nerve muscle preparations. SimMuscle is arranged principally in the same way as SimNerv. There are three different parts: firstly 'wetlands', showing some frogs with some sounds. The second part shows the preparation of the muscle, beginning in the same way as the preparation of the nerve.

With this muscle we are going into the lab, to the practical course which is the third and main part of the program. There you have all the devices that you need to do the experiment. You have to switch on the devices and then you have to adjust the parameters. You can apply single pulses, or double pulses to see the superposition of two contractions, and you can apply trains of pulses to analyse tetanic contractions and so on.

There is plasticity in each isolated muscle. We didn't consider this plasticity here, because it only occurs in the artificial situation of an isolated preparation, not in the physiological situation. This plasticity disturbs the recordings sometimes very seriously.

The students are free to try to learn by doing much more than in the real experiment.



Henk van Wilgenburg

One of the advantages is that you can do things in a shorter time, and because of this you can do more, you can concentrate more on the real teaching objectives. In the past students got confused by the equipment, by the set-up. We can do it quite easily now with computer simulation.

Microlabs was developed in the 1970's when a number of students refused to do animal experiments. Microlabs is a composition of a number of programs. Here we show the mouse behaviour program. We see the different behaviours, and it is up to the student to click on the different behaviours and to check later on whether or not this has been done in the right way. This is a good way to train students in making studies of behaviour in the normal situation and in situations where they have had special drugs.

We can also show the symptoms, pieces of video of behaviour of mice, rats, rabbits and other animals; so for example you can see the difference between clonic and tonic convulsions - not a nice picture to look at but this will not be repeated any more. Here we see the drugs like strychnine that will cause this effect, so we can look at the substances and demonstrate now the whole sequence of symptoms if you give strychnine to a rat. These are the kind of experiments that have been shown to students until the 1960's, and since then we have not shown them any more.

There is a kinetic dynamic program integrated in MicroLabs. What we can do here is to make a selection: we use a female adult rat, and as a route we give intra-peritoneal injection, and for the dose we have to check the weight of the animal. And then we look, for example, after 1 minute, observing the multifunction. We continue, and look after 2 minutes.... after 3 minutes it is clear that the animal is no longer moving very spontaneously, so we can continue and look after 5 minutes. Now the student has to decide whether to continue and to wait longer, or maybe to add a new dose.

Then there are a number of simulations of isolated tissues like the guinea pig ileum, several on muscle preparations, the phrenic nerve-diaphragm preparation, and others. These programs are still written in DOS and can be used on any computer. Soon there will also be a new set of Microlabs on Windows, but especially for those countries where they use the old computers they can use also the original Microlabs. You can do things with this program that you can't do with the real animal.



POP- Trainer

Gerhard Szinicz

The POP-Trainer is a really simple and easy-to-use device for simulating operations. The simulation is perfect, and you can train especially well the management of bleeding. You can train as long as you want, and no animal will die.

You take an organ from the slaughterhouse - a liver for example, or a lung - and put a tube in the main artery of this organ. It is then perfused with coloured tap-water, simulating the blood perfusion, and you put it in the trainer, in the device. It is a closed system so it is very clean. It simulates the normal blood perfusion in a perfect manner, so you can train exactly what you need to. You can start the training with working bihanded, you start the dissection of the anatomical structures, with the artery, vein, and the ureta, and the most challenging problems are

parenchymal operations, the partial resection of the kidney, and there you can use all the modern devices like ultrasound shears or high frequency technology and lasers. You can use anything you want in this device.

You can use all organs. Usually we use the liver with the gall bladder, the colon with the bowel specimens, and of course the kidneys with the aorta. It is very nice for us to see that the trainees don't want to stop training even when the time is over.




Christoffer Schander

DigiDiss is a computer program which simulates a dissection of various animals. It is based on stills, quick-time VR video and animation. You use it on the computer, cutting up the animal. You get all the organs identified, and in connection to this you get histology, taxonomy, phylogeny, and so on, so it is much more integrated with other disciplines than the regular teaching.

There are different sections within DigiDiss, and the program begins with the animals themselves. Right now we include the rat, the cod, the dogfish, the frog, and the hen, and later on we will add modules for invertebrates. Then there is a section dealing with the actual techniques and the instruments used in the dissection. There are video sequences showing the actual incisions in the animal and there is quick time VR, 3D figures showing different structures like the heart, the skeleton and the exterior of the animal. There is also a phylogenetic part showing the relationships between the different animal groups, and there is a taxonomical part dealing with their placement in the hierarchy of nature.

Kristina Wereen

If you do a real dissection, if you make one mistake you can't go back and start all over again: you have to continue or you have to interrupt your dissection. But if you use DigiDiss you can go back and forward as you want, and you can work with it by yourself. I think it is very good.


It allows for unlimited repetition, and it also allows you to make direct comparisons between different animals, to compare the histology between different groups. As it is now, the histology course is usually separated from the morphology course, which means that first you study the histology and you might not even know what kind of organ you are looking at, and then a couple of months later you see the actual organ. Here you see it all at the same time, which I see as a big advantage.

(Ethically-sourced animals)

Siri Martinsen

My name is Siri Martinsen and I am a 3rd year veterinary student at the Veterinary College in Norway. As a veterinary student I have to have knowledge about how animals look internally, and one way of doing that is of course dissection. Animals are killed for dissections, but I don't think it has to be that way. You can also use naturally dead animals, as I did in my studies.

One solution is to call animal owners and ask them if they can give you their animals that die naturally. In that way I got horses, cows and sheep for dissection. And it is a very good solution for veterinary colleges who want to use naturally dead animals to link up with veterinary clinics, both for small and large animals.

And so I brought the animals to the pathology lab - it is important that it's a non-infectious disease or an injury - and then I did the dissections on the ethically-sourced animals.

The use of animals for dissection is actually the most common harmful use of animals in education. Both in biology and veterinary medicine, and also in many other fields, they use killed animals for dissections, so I think that starting to use naturally dead animals is really one of the most important ways of decreasing the number of animals killed for education.

Vertebrate Dissection Guides


Within biological science education there are several species of vertebrate that are used regularly for teaching anatomy and physiology. At the University of Portsmouth in England, media producers and biology teachers have combined their skills and resources to produce videofilm of professionally-performed dissections. These Vertebrate Dissection Guides feature the dogfish, the frog, the pigeon and the rat.

Each 50 minute video from the series investigates one of these species. The videos use high resolution photography, colour overlays and 3D animated graphics to teach the anatomy and evolutionary significance of the vertebrate under study.

The videos begin with the external features of the animal. To progress on to the internal structures, the animal is first prepared for dissection. The student is then guided through the different stages of the practical by a narrator. For each species, there is a detailed investigation of the digestive, urino-genital, circulatory, and other systems.

The narrator identifies the organs and surrounding structures, and describes their functional relationships.

The motivation behind the production of the Vertebrate Dissection Guides was to improve the student understanding of comparative anatomy. Teachers have found that this video resource can often provide more information than the dissection itself. It also offers students the freedom of choice over their preferred learning style, creating a better learning environment.



Koken Rat

Leif Bjellin

The Koken Rat is an artificial animal made of different kinds of plastics and silicone to give it the feeling of a real rat. The first thing you have to train on a rat is how to hold it in the proper way, and that is easily shown on the Koken Rat. You learn how to grip the skin round the neck with two fingers, close to the ears, and then with the rest of the fingers and the palm to grip the rest of the skin.

The next thing we train is how to feed the rat using a catheter. The students can experience that if you follow the back of the mouth with the catheter it will more or less automatically go down to the stomach. Through this transparent part of the rat you can clearly see if you have placed the catheter in the proper way: you can see the trachea, the oesophagus and the stomach.

Then, maybe most importantly, we use it to train intravenous injection in the tail vein. You can see more or less clearly, as in a real rat, the lateral tail veins, and when you think you have found them you can start training the injection, and you can train, train and train again. I know that in Sweden at least it is used for the veterinary students, and if they haven't seen it before they find it a bit funny, but for sure they like it.



Tannetje Koning

I'm Tannetje Koning, I live in the Netherlands, I studied veterinary medicine in Utrecht, finished my studies in 1994 and immediately afterwards bought this practice in Zeewolde. I think you can become a perfect vet without doing any animal experiments. You can use animals that are put to death because you can't heal them, and a lot of experiments you can replace in this way. I think even surgery you can learn better from a veterinarian than from doing an animal experiment because then you see the whole surgery, the whole operation, and you see the animal recover.

When I was studying I wasn't really sure whether I wanted to be a veterinarian or not. If they had forced me to do animal experiments it just wouldn't have been worth the cost, and I would have stopped. I think that if you do animal experiments you care less about animals, I think you will be acting differently towards other animals, and maybe towards people too. So I think it is harmful to do animal experiments - you are not as respectful towards animals as you should be.

Kerstin Lindholm-Kiessling

I built a course which would give good physiological knowledge and experience without using animal experiments. So to me the norm is the course without animal experiments, because they are not necessary. There are so many ways of demonstrating physiological principles that you do not need animal experiments.

Leif Bjellin

As far as I can see I can't find any disadvantage with the alternatives. If there was one I wouldn't pick up the alternative. I wouldn't replace a good old animal experiment with something that wasn't that good.

Jonathan Balcombe

There's no question that students learn effectively using alternative methods. There are close to 20 published studies in the academic literature that I'm aware of that compare the performance of students using alternatives with those using traditional animal-based methods. These studies have found that students using the alternatives learn as well as, and in some cases actually better, than the students using animals.


You must remember that in education its a question of teaching knowledge that is already known, its not a question of finding new knowledge. And its also a question of letting students do things with their own hands and

detect things themselves, but its always things that are known in the end. And therefore it is not necessary to have animals involved at all.


We also need to question the kind of message we're sending to students when animals are harmed in educational settings. It's a sad irony that whereas the laboratory equipment we use is valued and re-used, the animals are treated as throw-away objects and thrown into the garbage at the end of the exercise. That's very disturbing in my mind given that one of the fundamental tenets of life-science education is to teach respect for life.


The European Convention states very clearly that only those students who need animal experimentation for their coming profession should take part in that kind of course, so ordinary students who do not intend to use it for their coming profession should have alternatives only.


InterNICHE [formerly EURONICHE]

Nick Jukes

InterNICHE is the International Network for Humane Education, working with students to support freedom of conscience, and with teachers to introduce alternatives to animal experiments.

Ursula Zinko

We go out to universities and to seminars and demonstrate alternatives ourselves, and there is also the possibility to get hands-on experience of the different alternatives by visiting our conferences.


There are a lot of different people involved in the network, and people come from many different angles. InterNICHE tries to be the 'melting pot' to allow discussion about humane education. Many people are actually students objecting to animal experiments, teachers who have developed alternatives, and others who have come along to see what alternatives there are to harmful animal use.


InterNICHE mainly works by disseminating information on alternatives, students' rights, and legislation.


We feel it's important that student-teacher conflict is minimised, and so we would encourage students to talk to the teacher to find out about the teaching objectives of any practical and then to look into the alternatives, or combination of alternatives, that could replace that animal use.


Today there is a wide range of alternatives available, and if you combine different teaching aids and different approaches you get a high-quality humane education that can fully meet all the teaching objectives.


The InterNICHE Alternatives Loan System is a collection of different alternatives which can replace harmful animal use. We developed this system to enable teachers and students to borrow and familiarise themselves with the different products that are available.


InterNICHE has produced a book called 'from Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse', which is a reference guide to over 500 alternatives. It gives details of their practical application, specification and source.


We encourage teachers to contact InterNICHE if they have questions about particular animal practicals and what alternatives or combination of alternatives could replace them, so we offer an Alternatives Advisory Service, and we also have literature and a website which can provide further information.