Animal rights groups say the EU directive needs updating
A world expert on primates, Dr Jane Goodall, has urged Europe to find alternatives to experiments on animals.
Speaking in Brussels, Dr Goodall called for work on "new ways of testing and experimenting that will not involve the use of live, sentient beings".
An EU directive on the protection of animals used for research dates back to 1986 and is due to be revised.
An estimated 11 million animals are used in experiments in the EU annually. The practice is highly regulated.
Many scientists argue that experiments on animals are vital in the development of treatments for crippling human diseases and conditions.
Dr Goodall, who has spent years studying chimpanzee behaviour, suggested a "Nobel Prize" for scientific breakthroughs that avoided experimentation on animals.
She was speaking at an event organised by animal rights campaigners and a group of Euro MPs. Dr Goodall presented a 150,000-signature petition supporting her call.
A UK non-animal medical research body, the Dr Hadwen Trust, called for the EU to set up a centre of excellence in non-animal research.
The trust's spokeswoman, Wendy Higgins, said that "behind the scenes, researchers within industry and academia often reveal to us their deep disquiet about the extent to which animal research is portrayed as a gold standard".
The EU's Directive 86/609/EEC sets out controls on animal experimentation, including the rule that such tests "shall be performed solely by competent authorised persons, or under the direct responsibility of such a person".
It also says an experiment "shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available".