Tag Archives: NC3Rs

Research Roundup: Pig cells for Parkinson’s Patients, Lab grown cartilage and more

Welcome to this week’s Research Roundup. These Friday posts aim to inform our readers about the many stories that relate to animal research each week. Do you have an animal research story we should include in next week’s Research Roundup? You can send it to us via our Facebook page or through the contact form on the website.

  • Brain cells from Pigs have been implanted into Parkinson’s patients in hopes to stop the progression of the disease. Parkinson’s is a neurological disease in humans that causes tremors and difficulty moving, which usually worsens over time. Such dysfunction of the motor system is caused by gradual loss of brain cells that make dopamine. Current technologies synthetically replace dopamine in the brain, however, this is not always effective. Now, a new technology, developed by Living Cell Technologies, implants cells from the choroid plexus of pigs into humans with the aim of nourishing the remaining dopamine-producing cells. The approach was first successful in a rat model and non-human primate model of Parkinson’s disease and has now been done in 4 human Parkinson patients with promising results 18 months after implantation.
  • A new study suggests that the liver may grow and shrink by up to 40% every 24 hours in response to ribosomal activity.  Mammals, in general, consume food at certain times throughout the day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), in a cyclical rhythm. After consuming this food, the liver plays a pivotal role in producing biochemicals necessary for digestion, regulating glycogen storage, and detoxifying byproducts of metabolism. Recent research, published in the journal Cell, investigated how the liver adapts to daily rhythms of eating using mice as a model of mammals. Their research showed that the mass of the liver, hepatocyte size, and protein levels follow a daily rhythm, that depends on feeding-fasting and light-dark cycles. A second experiment showed that daily rhythms of protein levels in the liver are correlated with daily rhythms in ribosome number. This fundamental research has implications for our general understanding of liver function, which may allow for future cures in liver disease and dysfunction.

  • Lab-grown cartilage has similar mechanical and biochemical properties to natural cartilage. Cartilage helps joints to move, but can easily be damaged by trauma, disease, or overuse. Once damaged, cartilage does not regrow and is often difficult to replace. Biomedical engineers have been developing artificial cartilage using human chondrocytes over the past several years to replace damaged cartilage. Now, researchers from the University of California Davis have tried a new method by growing the artificial cartilage under tension, which helped the cartilage grow stronger and now has similar properties of natural cartilage. The researchers then implanted cartilage into mice and found there were no negative interactions between the cartilage and the living mouse. The next step is to try the lab-grown cartilage on a load-bearing joint to see if it remains durable under stress.
  • Social stimuli may be an inadequate replacement for juice rewards for monkeys in behavioural neuroscience research. A study funded by the NC3Rs aimed to find out if images of other monkeys could be used to reward monkeys for participating in research, rather than traditional juice rewards — which often require fluid-restrictions to work. The researchers conducted the study in 4 rhesus macaques, and first confirmed that these monkeys preferred monkey images (a social stimuli) to nonsense control images. They then tested monkeys on a simple cognitive task, offering only juice reward, juice + social stimuli, or only social stimuli. In all monkeys the juice reward improved motivation, and only one monkey did the social stimuli improve motivation. The scientists concluded that this form of social stimuli might be ineffective, suggesting it may be because all monkeys are pair housed in socially stimulating environments. The study was published in PLOSone.

Macaques were used in the study. Image: Understanding Animal Research


  • 8 years of research culminate in a vaccination to fight heroin addiction. Approximately 9.2 million people in the world use heroin, some of which results in death due to heroin abuse — approximately 91 Americans die each day from overdosing on opioids. Using mice and rhesus macaque monkeys, researchers at the Scripps Research Institute developed a heroin conjugate vaccine which reduced the potency of heroin by 15 times in mice and 4 times in monkeys. The effects of these vaccinations persisted for over 8 months. This preclinical research brings us closer to an effective heroin vaccination for treating opioid use disorders. This study was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Tail or Tunnel: Handling Methods Influence Mouse Behavior in Cognitive Tasks

  • A study funded by the NC3Rs explored how handling methods influenced mice’s behavior during cognitive tasks
  • Mice were either picked up by the tail or guided into a tunnel, then transferred to the testing arena
  • Mice that were transferred in the tunnel were far more exploratory during the cognitive task
  • Acclimation to handling procedures is important

A new study published today in Scientific Reports shows that the way experimenters pick up mice can affect their behavior during cognitive tasks. The study was funded by the NC3Rs, which is dedicated to replacing, refining, and reducing the use of animals in research and testing. This particular study focused on refinement: identifying optimal handling methods for mice has important implications for both the welfare of the animals and the validity and usability of data that are collected, which could potentially lead to a reduction in the need for animals in future studies.

Image Credit: Jane Hurst, University of Liverpool.

Drs. Kelly Gouveia and Jane Hurst first placed laboratory mice near a new, attractive stimulus – urine from a novel mouse of the opposite sex – that is known to stimulate approach and investigation. The mice were allowed three sessions to grow accustomed to the new scent. Throughout all three sessions, mice were either picked up by the tail (standard laboratory practice, though there is no obvious scientific reasoning for this method) or were guided into a clear tunnel that is both affordable and easily sterilized. (The method is also easy to learn.) Mice were then carried to the test arena either by the tail or in the tunnel and allowed to explore. Gouveia and Hurst report that mice picked up by the tail showed very little willingness to explore the test arena, and therefore investigate the new stimulus, whereas those transported in the tunnel showed much higher exploration and a strong interest in the new scent.

Importantly, Gouveia and Hurst then tested the mice’s ability to discriminate between the (formerly) new scent and a second, different urine stimulus. They report that since the mice picked up by the tail performed so poorly from the start, they did not discriminate between the two scents. However, those transported in the tunnel showed robust and reliable discrimination. These findings are noteworthy not only with respect to the psychological welfare of the animals, but also for the important effects that handling and habituation have on yielding usable, reliable data. With the potential to reduce the stress associated with handling, the tunnel method could reduce the anxiety that mice display upon tail handling – thereby resulting in more species-typical behaviors, such as exploration of a novel, conspecific scent. It could also reduce the uncontrolled variation that exists in animal studies and could ultimately produce more reliable data. Thus, identifying optimal handling techniques has the potential to reduce the number of animals needed in laboratory studies in addition to refining the techniques used to study them and enhance their welfare.

Image Credit: Jane Hurst, University of Liverpool.

It is worth noting that a study by Novak and colleagues (2015) found no difference in cognitive performance between mice that were handled by the tail or by a less invasive method (“cupping” in the experimenter’s hands). Why might no difference have been found in this study? One possibility is that the cognitive task the researchers used was different from the present study (a radial arm maze vs. novel scent), and the arm maze may probe for different behaviors than a novel odor task. Another possibility is that perhaps mice “prefer” the tunnel to both tail handling and cupping, but neither the 2015 nor the present study compared all three methods. Hurst and her colleague Rebecca West did compare all three methods in a 2010 study, however, and found that mice preferred both the tunnel and cupping method to tail handling (as assessed by voluntary interaction time with the experimenter); although the cupping method produced more variable results depending on strain and sex. However, in the Novak study, mice were handled daily for many weeks, whereas in the Hurst & West study they were handled only for nine days. Of course, the most parsimonious explanation is that in every handling study, experimenter interaction is confounded with handling. That is, are the mice acclimating to the experimenters, to the handling procedures, or both?

These questions underscore the need for replication before firm conclusions about optimal handling techniques can be drawn. Nevertheless, the findings published today in Scientific Reports are an important addition to the field of animal welfare, and they emphasize the importance of constant, rigorous studies surrounding welfare issues.

Amanda Dettmer


Gouveia K, Hurst JL (2017) Optimising reliability of mouse performance in behavioural testing: the major role of non-aversive handling. Scientific Reports 7: 44999. doi: 10.1038/srep44999

Hurst JL, West RS (2010) Taming anxiety in laboratory mice. Nature Methods. Oct;7(10): 825-6

Novak J, Bailoo JD, Melotti L, Rommen J, Würbel H (2015) An Exploration Based Cognitive Bias Test for Mice: Effects of Handling Method and Stereotypic Behaviour. PLoS ONE 10(7): e0130718. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0130718

University of Stirling improving animal welfare for dogs

A study, conducted by the University of Stirling, in collaboration with AstraZeneca and Charles River Laboratories, aimed to look at the impact of modern, purpose-built dog facilities, on the animals’ welfare. Dr Laura Scullion Hall and Professor Hannah Buchanan-Smith, from the Behaviour and Evolution Group (BERG) at the University of Stirling, published a paper (1) that aimed to validate the welfare benefits of the modern home design pens for dogs. The research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in the UK, and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

There is a clear body of evidence showing the positive impacts of housing refinement on numerous species (2)(3)(4), however, according to Hall, the design of the home pens for dogs “has received little scientific attention since the 1990s, since when legislative minimum standards have improved”. Dogs spend most of their time in home pens, usually interspersed with occasional use of playrooms. The study compared animal welfare using the modern and traditional home pens.


From left to right: modern home pen; traditional home pen; indoor play area. Image Credit: Behaviour and Evolution Research Group, University of Stirling.

These newer home pens are larger (around 4.8m2/animal compared with the EU minimum of 2.25m2/animal), provide good visibility for the dogs and staff, choice of resting places, noise reducing materials, horizontal rather than vertical bars and enrichment toys inside. The researchers concluded that “the Refinements described here are implemented consistently across industry and suggest that factors such as home pen design should be included in the design of experimental studies.”

Laboratory housed dogs in home pens, AstraZeneca facility. Credit: Laura Hall / Refining Dog Care

Laboratory housed dogs in modern home pens, AstraZeneca facility. Credit: Laura Hall / Refining Dog Care

Dr Hall had previously won an award from NC3Rs for her paper on improving techniques for oral dosing in dogs.  She also developed the “Refining Dog Care” website, to:

[I]mprove the welfare of dogs used in scientific research and testing worldwide, and to improve the quality of data which is obtained from their use. We do this by collaborating with our partners in industry, drawing on expertise and empirical data, to provide guidance on best practice for housing and husbandry, and provide online resources and hands-on training to staff to implement positive reinforcement training protocols for regulated procedures.

Around 4,000 procedures on dogs are carried out in the UK each year (around 0.1% of the total), these are mainly for safety testing, conducted at pharmaceutical or contract research organisations. The fact this research was conducted in collaboration with such organisations will hopefully speed its implementation.

Speaking of Research


  1. Hall et al, 2016, “The influence of facility and home pen design on the welfare of the laboratory-housed dog” in Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods,
  2. Everds et al, 2013, “Interpreting stress responses during routine toxicity studies a review of the biology, impact, and assessment” in Toxicologic Pathology, 41 (2013)
  3. Hall, 2014, A practical framework for harmonising welfare and quality of data output in the laboratory-housed dog,D. thesis
  4. Tasker, 2012, Linking welfare and quality of scientific output in cynomolgus macaques (Macaca fascicularis) used for regulatory toxicology,D. thesis

Experimental Design Assistant: Improving the Scientific Method

Studies involving animals are a crucial component of medical research, and without them our understanding of disease and suffering would be decades behind where we are now. However, scientists must always reflect on their work and ensure that animal studies are carried out with the best design, compassion and rigour possible, so animals are not involved in experiments needlessly.

Just as our understanding of science has improved over the years, so has our understanding of scientific methods. In an effort to increase the quality and effectiveness of animal research, the NC3Rs – a UK organisation devoted to promoting the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of animals in research – created the ARRIVE guidelines in 2010. These guidelines provided researchers with a set of rules on how to report animal experiments, ensuring that animals were used effectively and humanely. So far over 600 journals have signed up to the ARRIVE guidelines. Although there are no quantitative analyses of the effectiveness of the ARRIVE guidelines, they have undoubtedly provided an important framework for animal studies that previously didn’t exist, and have made it harder for poor science to go unnoticed.

Following the success of the ARRIVE guidelines, the NC3Rs has continued its efforts to reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in research. Recently, the organisation has released an innovative new piece of software, the Experimental Design Assistant (EDA).

Experimental Design Assistant - EDAThe EDA allows scientists to plan out their experiments thoroughly and visually, mapping out every aspect of the study from the earliest hypothesis to the last statistical analysis. While the user is completing their experimental plan, the EDA will analyse the study and provide feedback. The feedback includes whether the number of animals involved could be reduced, whether experimental groups are correctly distributed, whether statistical analysis is appropriate, and much more. Already the EDA has over 400 registered users. Overall, the EDA will refine animal studies and could potentially reduce the numbers of animals used in research while simultaneously improving the quality of science that results from animal studies.

An example of a typical experiment designed with the help of the EDA

An example of a typical experiment designed with the help of the EDA. Click to Enlarge

Not only does the EDA aim to improve the quality and effectiveness of animal research, it also aims to increase transparency. The EDA could one day allow funding bodies and independent regulators to observe experiments being designed in real-time. Additionally, experimental designs could, perhaps, be made available to the public, alongside the brief descriptions of each research project that are currently in the public domain. This sort of transparency can help to build trust in scientists and animal research.

University of Manchester researcher Briony Labram is a scientist whose work will benefit from the EDA. Here she talks about how this software is important, especially for animal researchers:

I’m investigating how the Aspergillus fumigatus fungus is involved in severe cases of asthma.

My project started using epithelial cell culture, where we exposed these cells to Aspergillus fumigatus spores. This gave us a lot of interesting results but also raised more research questions.  Many of these questions could not be answered using the simple cell culture model. In order to study a chronic condition such as asthma and ask more complex research questions, longer study durations are necessary. Therefore the only way to answer these questions was to use an animal model.

Researchers should be especially diligent when planning studies involving animals, to ensure the maximum gain in terms of meaningful data while using as few animals as possible. The EDA will ensure the numbers of animals used in an experiment is kept to a minimum while still obtaining reliable and reproducible data.

Briony Labram - University of ManchesterBriony is typical of many animal researchers; she is aware of the importance of reducing and refining the use of animals in her studies. By using the EDA, Briony knows her experiments can be improved while minimising the number of animals involved in her study.

The EDA is clearly an important tool for researchers, but is not without limitations. In its current, early stage, the EDA relies heavily on randomisation, paying less attention to counter-balancing (controlling for the order in which treatments are given), and other crucial aspects of thorough experimental design. In a similar vein, the EDA focuses more on reducing the number of animals used, when just as much effort should go into refining the studies in question. Refining the use of animals involved in research will undoubtedly increase the scientific value of such studies, and this should be a focal point of research tools like the EDA.

It is also important for scientists to retain some autonomy in the process of experimental design, and not rely entirely on software to design studies for them. Scientists using the EDA still need to understand their study in sufficient depth for the EDA’s statistical analysis to be effective. Ideally the EDA will be used as a companion to scientific rigour, rather than its replacement.

Research isn’t perfect, and it probably never will be as long as scientists are imperfect. But tools like the EDA will help to ensure that animals involved in research are kept close to a minimum, and that the medical and scientific value we obtain from them will continue to change lives for the better.

Anyone can access the EDA. Follow the simple registration process here to begin designing your experiments.


NC3Rs announce international 3Rs prizewinners

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is a primarily UK Government-funded organisation which works in collaboration with scientists and research institutions “driving and funding innovation and technological developments that minimise the need for animals in research and testing, and lead to improvements in welfare where animals continue to be used”. They are the largest institution in the UK dedicated solely to developing and promoting the 3Rs, with Government funding of over £8 million.

Today they announced the winners of the 2015 international 3Rs prize, for the best papers developing an aspect of the 3Rs. There were two research papers jointly awarded the top prize. The first of the prizes was awarded to Dr Madeline Lancaster from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, for a paper (1) describing a 3D model of the embryonic human brain made from stem cells. This is the first time the early development of the human brain has been able to be modelled in vitro, and may help replace some animal studies when studying neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Watch the Tedx talk by Dr Lancaster below:

The second joint-winner was to Dr Laura Hall, from the University of Stirling, for her paper (2) on improving techniques for oral dosing in dogs, carried out with the support of AstraZeneca.  The paper laid out a framework for assessing the welfare of lab animal dogs undergoing oral dosing based on their behaviour, health and psychological well-being. According to NC3Rs:

The framework was used to validate a refined procedure for administering substances to dogs during the testing of new drugs. Gavage – the use a thin tube temporarily inserted into the stomach via the mouth – is a common procedure for delivering drugs and this work has the potential to minimise stress in thousands of dogs used in testing worldwide.

Around 4,000 procedures on dogs are carried out in the UK each year (around 0.1% of the total), these are mainly for safety testing, with oral dosing being one of the more common procedures. Therefore, Dr Hall’s work has the potential to improve the welfare for many of these animals. Dr Hall has promoted her techniques through her Refining Dog Care website.

Laboratory housed dogs in home pens, AstraZeneca facility. Credit: Laura Hall / Refining Dog Care

Laboratory housed dogs in home pens, AstraZeneca facility. Credit: Laura Hall / Refining Dog Care

A third prize, for a highly commended paper, was awarded to Dr Hayley Francies, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, for her work (3) showing that colorectal cancer organoids from a biobank reflected the molecular features from the original tumour and could be used to test drugs. Such organoids have the potential to reduce the use of animals in cancer research.

Dr Francies said:

We hope this work will support the utility of organoids in drug development where organoid cultures could help bridge the gap between cell lines and rodent models by encompassing aspects of the tumour complexity generally found only in in vivo systems.

Colorectal cancer organoids being grown in the lab. Credit: Hayley E. Francies, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Colorectal cancer organoids being grown in the lab. Credit: Hayley E. Francies, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute

Such 3Rs work plays an important part in improving the way we conduct biomedical research worldwide. The NC3Rs prize aims to promote the 3Rs and recognise those whose research could help animal welfare by improving the way such research is conducted, or even replacing the use of animals in certain areas.

Speaking of Research


(1) Lancaster M et al. (2013). Cerebral organoids model human brain development and microcephaly. Nature 501(7497): 373-9 doi:10.1038/nature12517

(2) Hall LE, Robinson S, Buchanan-Smith HM (2015). Refining dosing by oral gavage in the dog: A protocol to harmonise welfare. Journal of Pharmacological and Toxicological Methods 72: 35-46 doi:10.1016/j.vascn.2014.12.007

(3) van de Wetering M, Francies HE, Francis JM et al. (2015). Prospective Derivation of a Living Organoid Biobank of Colorectal Cancer Patients. Cell 161(4): 933-45 doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2015.03.053

Implementing the 3Rs at the University of Oxford

This Guest Post is by Stuart Peirson, Associate Professor in the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology and chair of the 3Rs sub-committee at The University of Oxford. This article was originally posted on the website of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and is reprinted with full permission. This article explains how Oxford is supporting the 3Rs, please read out page on UK research regulations and the 3Rs for more information.

Oxford imageThe University of Oxford is one of the world’s leading centres for biomedical research, with outstanding strengths in both basic science and its clinical application. The University’s Policy on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research outlines the University’s commitment to ensuring that all those involved in animal-based research are proactive in pursuing the 3Rs, engage fully in the ethical review process, and fulfil their moral and legal responsibilities for the care and welfare of animals.

Ethical review

Reflecting the enormous breadth of research across Oxford, the University currently holds over a hundred different project licences, with over a thousand personal licence holders. This poses a number of challenges for the coordination of ethical review as well as the dissemination of best-practice and advances in the 3Rs.

The critical element in this process is the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Board (AWERB). All applications for project licences require the ethical approval of the University before they are passed to the Home Office. At Oxford, this involves a rigorous and objective process of ethical review that challenges scientists to justify their use of animals, and that requires them, where the use of animals is unavoidable, to minimise animal numbers and maximise animal welfare.

At Oxford the AWERB process consists of two principal elements. Firstly, a central Committee on Animal Care and Ethical Review (ACER) is responsible for setting policy, as well as reviewing applications involving the use of non-human primates, severe protocols or novel techniques. Secondly, Oxford also relies upon a network of Local Ethical Review Panels (LERPs), which consider all other project licence applications. All project licences are required to provide a written retrospective review for their LERP at two years and four years, providing a critical opportunity for the LERP to assess how project licences have applied the 3Rs in their research.

The 3Rs sub-committee

In addition to the ethical review process, the University also has a 3Rs sub-committee reporting directly to ACER, which receives copies of all retrospective reviews to identify key developments in the 3Rs across the University. These developments are combined to form a termly 3Rs newsletter, which also contains information on relevant workshops, lectures and courses, such as NC3Rs notifications.

In addition, the committee also recognises the achievements of particular groups in the application of the 3Rs, providing letters of commendation to those project licence holders who show particular commitment and dedication to the 3Rs.

Since the introduction of the University’s Policy on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research, all departments involved in such research are also required to have termly Departmental Animal Welfare meetings. These are attended by project and personal licence holders, vets, Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWOs) and animal care staff, and provide a valuable forum for discussion of advances in the 3Rs.

The relationships within the network of animal committees at the University of Oxford

Summary of the role of the 3Rs sub-committee within the ethical review process

The 3Rs sub-committee also arranges lectures and workshops in areas it has identified as being important. For example, in 2013 we held a workshop on ‘Developments in Transgenic Mouse Models’, involving speakers from both Oxford and MRC Harwell, covering subjects ranging from colony management and background strains to existing transgenic resources and developing new transgenic models.

Working together

Biomedical Services (BMS) is an independent University Department of the Medical Sciences Division. BMS provides world class animal facilities that provide accommodation and care for its animals, delivered by professionally trained staff. A central principle of the University’s policy is the commitment to a culture of care, encouraging a team approach to animal work that fosters good communication and collaboration between all those working with animals in scientific research.

To facilitate this, in addition to their role on AWERBs, BMS staff, (including vets and NACWOs), routinely attend Departmental Welfare meetings, providing an informal opportunity for project and personal licence holders to discuss their work. The regular interaction has encouraged BMS staff and academic scientists to work together to achieve both high quality research and animal welfare.

Finally, BMS also provides key central services, such as the University’s new online training and competency records and colony management systems. Furthermore, practical veterinary assistance is also provided, such as a recent series of workshops on aseptic technique.

The future

Whilst Oxford has made great progress in implementation of the 3Rs throughout its scientific research programme, more can still be done. For example, we are currently building a ‘3Rs Knowledge Bank’ containing key and up-to-date references and protocols relating to best practice in the 3Rs.

We are also currently working on a University Strategy for the 3Rs, based upon the NC3Rs publication ‘Implementing an Institutional Framework for the 3Rs’. This will ensure that the 3Rs are thoroughly embedded in the research activities of the University, and that when animal research is necessary, it is conducted to the very highest of standards.

Professor Stuart Peirson

The British Government sets out a positive future for animal research

Report CoalitionToday, the British Government set out its pledges on the future of animal research under the current Coalition Government. A joint paper put out by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, the Department for Health, and the Home Office entitled “Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research” laid out the future for animal research in Britain. This document should allay the fears by some scientists that the previous appointment of Norman Baker MP (a critic of animal research) as minister responsible for animal experiments, might prove disastrous for the research community.

The UK Government remains clear about the importance of continued medical research involving animals:

The use of animals in scientific research remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of how biological systems work both in health and disease. Such use is crucial for the development of new medicines and cutting edge medical technologies for both humans and animals, and for the protection of our environment. Hence, enabling properly regulated use of animals is essential to improving the health and lives of humans and animals and to the safety and sustainability of our environment.

Using clear examples:

For example, the development of monoclonal antibody therapies over the last 20 years has completely transformed our ability to treat diseases including breast and other cancers,  rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The development of this technology would not have been possible without the use of animals both in developing the fundamental elements of the technology and in producing the medicines used to treat patients.

The Government also clarified its oft-misunderstood 2010 pledge to reduce the use of animals in research (The total number of procedures has risen in Britain as funding into life sciences continues to increase).

[In] 2010, the Government made a commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. This commitment is not focused on baseline numbers which are influenced by a range of extraneous factors. Instead, it encompasses replacement, reduction and refinement (the 3Rs) more broadly, putting them at the heart of a science-led approach.

And that is what is at the heart of the pledge – the 3Rs of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animals in research. The Government lays out three strategic priorities to this end:

  • advancing the use of the 3Rs within the UK;
  • using international leadership to influence the uptake and adoption of the 3Rs approaches globally; and
  • promoting an understanding and awareness about the use of animals where no alternatives exist.

While the total number of animals used in research has risen, the UK has made strides in reducing the numbers of large animals used, with procedures on cats, dogs and primates all down from a decade ago (all three species combined now account for less than 0.2% of the total). Over 98% of all research in the UK is now conducted on mice, rats, birds and fish. Part of this change is due to genetically altered mice now making it possible to accurately model complex diseases which could previously only be studied in large mammals.

Replacing primates with transgenic mice

Advancing the use of the 3Rs within the UK

In order to help advance the 3Rs in the UK, the government plans to boost the funding for the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), from £5.3 million in 2010/11 to just over £8 million in 2014/15. The NC3Rs works with research institutions in the UK and beyond, to find ways in which animal research can be improved – for both the science and the animals. For example NC3Rs fund:

[R]esearch to improve the assessment and alleviation of pain in laboratory animals, and to ensure that rats and mice are killed as humanely as possible at the end of studies. The Centre reviews all applications submitted to the major bioscience funding bodies that involve the use of non-human primates, cats, dogs or horses, identifying opportunities to further implement the 3Rs. It also hosts an annual meeting for scientists, vets and animal care staff who use non-human primates to discuss welfare issues; recent meetings have included topics such as training animals to cooperate with procedures such as blood sampling in order to minimise any stress they might experience and the use of imaging technologies.

The government wishes to enhance the role of the Home Office inspectors (who visit every animal research institution in the UK on a regular basis) to include helping to disseminate best 3Rs practice.  This is a definite positive step as inspectors are in the best position to view best practice in one lab and offer advice to the next – though the Government has not made it clear if the number of inspectors will rise – something that would be welcomed.

Influencing the uptake and adoption of 3Rs approaches globally

The government wishes to do what it can to export the UK’s best practice abroad. The UK has some of the best animal welfare standards in the world. By pushing for better standards elsewhere the UK both helps improve the global welfare of animals, and helps to prevent the temptation for some researchers to conduct studies abroad where regulations are less stringent.

The UK pledges to do more work abroad, supporting the NC3Rs in its international work, and by trying to drive forward harmonised international standards – something which the EU Directive 2010/63 is creating across the EU. Furthermore, since the UK and EU have banned cosmetic testing and the importation of cosmetics tested on animals, the Government now want to push for similar bans elsewhere.

Promoting an understanding and awareness about the use of animals where no alternatives exist

Openness has been a growing theme in the UK when it comes to animal research. In October 2012, Understanding Animal Research announced that over 40 organisations had signed  the Declaration on Openness, committing them to developing the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. This came as a result of polls showing that the general public wanted more information about how animal research is conducted in the UK.

The Government supports the Concordat process, and also wishes to provide more information so that they may both understand and support the regulated use of animals in research. Public attitudes surveys in the next few years will show whether they succeed.

Overall, the Coalition pledges promise to show all the signs that the government is committed to the UK biosciences, while keeping animal welfare as a priority throughout the process.