New methods of genetic engineering, such as applications of nucleases e.g. CRISPR-Cas, allow the fast and targeted insertion of additional DNA into the genome of laboratory animals, and likewise the deletion of genes from the genome. The aim is to simulate human diseases in so-called 'animal models' or to investigate the role of specific genes by knocking them out. Meanwhile, specialised companies are offering genetically engineered mice and rats 'on demand'.
What is the problem?
In many cases, there will be no medical or therapeutic benefits to be gained from these experiments. Many of the animal models produced for the purpose of investigating human diseases have failed to fulfil expectations. Currently, the number of animal experiments is increasing rapidly. In 2015, more than 1 million genetically engineered animals were 'used' in animal experiments in Germany within just one year, most of them were rats and mice. Between 2004 and 2013, the number of animals being used in this way had already nearly tripled.
In many cases, economic interests appear to play an important role since many genetically engineered laboratory animals are patented. These patents create further commercial incentives for an ever increasing number of animal experiments in addition to marketing the animals for maximum profit.
In many cases, economic interests seem more important than medical advances. Patent applications for genetically engineered animals are a strong indication that companies and investors are prepared to make a profit from animal suffering. Despite all these ethical concerns, the European Patent Office (EPO) has already granted around 1000 patents on genetically engineered animals. Just recently, the EPO rejected oppositions against patents on genetically engineered chimpanzees.