Cash boost for increased investment in 3Rs research

Ian Pearson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, has announced funding of £2.4 million for eleven new projects that will aim to provide alternatives to animal testing.

Additional funding has meant that the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) can significantly increase its investment in research to replace, refine or reduce the use of animals this year.

Ian Pearson, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, said: "Animal testing and research plays a vital part in medical research and human health. In the UK we have a proud history of animal welfare and protection with one of the most rigorous systems in the world to regulate animals in research. Nonetheless, a central component of this is the 3Rs.

"Government is committed to finding alternatives to animal research, as I am personally committed to championing research into replacements for animals. Therefore I particularly welcome today's announcement of the grants being awarded by the NC3Rs. The quality and range of the research they are funding will have an impact in improving animal welfare, human health and medical advances".

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said: "I am thrilled at this increased investment to finding even more high-quality projects that will provide alternatives to the use of animals in the UK. Many of the grants have been awarded to groups doing important research on diseases that affect large numbers of people in the UK. These areas use substantial number of animals so the work we are funding will help reduce those numbers or minimise the suffering, while also improving the development of new treatments."

The total £2.4 million is an increase of £1 million on the previous year. Additional money was sought when the NC3Rs found that the number of high-quality grants received exceeded the budget available. Increased contributions from the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, and the Wellcome Trust have made up the shortfall.

Dr Robinson continued: "The increased interest and enthusiasm we've seen from the scientific community demonstrates the impact that the NC3Rs has had in just a few years. The additional money is only for this year so, anticipating that the number of quality applications will continue to grow, the challenge for us is to find more funding for future years. This money will be to fund further research, but also to develop our broad range of activities with the scientific community and others to progress the replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research."
One of the successful applicants this year is Professor Jamie Davies, University of Edinburgh, who is looking to find a replacement for using mice in kidney research by growing parts of kidneys in the laboratory instead.

Professor Davies said: "Kidney disease is a major cause of human suffering with approximately 40,000 people in the UK seriously affected each year. The aim of this project is to use tissue engineering to replace animals used in research into kidney regeneration and transplantation. Different types of cells will be developed to generate the different parts of a kidney in the laboratory and these will then be used in combination to try to recreate a whole kidney. The cultured kidneys will then be used to gain a better understanding of normal kidney development to aid the search for treatments."

Another project being funded is from Dr Matt Guille, University of Portsmouth, who wants to use computer imaging technologies to refine the current method for identifying individual frogs used in research, so that less harm is caused to the animals.

Dr Guille said: "Thousands of frogs are kept in laboratories throughout the UK, mainly they are used to produce eggs and embryos to study development. In order to meet their welfare requirements it is necessary that they are kept in large groups so that they feel protected and feed normally. Individual frogs need to be identifiable so that their welfare can be monitored and to determine which experiment they are part of, this has been done for example by branding, toe clipping or microchips. A new method is being pioneered which measures the pattern on the backs and feet of the animals using digital imaging and therefore is not harmful to the frog. If successful, this technique will be marketed commercially."

There are six projects primarily aimed at replacing the use of animals, four primarily aimed at refinement and one primarily aimed at reduction although there is some overlap. For this round of funding there were two priority areas. This first was tissue engineering, which was run jointly with BBSRC, and four of the grants were awarded in this area. The second was refinement of procedures of substantial severity and three of the grants were awarded in this area.

Professor Nigel Brown, BBSRC Director of Science and Technology, commented: "BBSRC is pleased to be working with the NC3Rs and to be able to fund projects that encourage our research community to embrace tissue engineering approaches that will help replace the use of animals in bioscience research."


Information on funded projects:

  • Replacement of hamsters with physicochemical analytical methods for Leptospira vaccine batch potency testing. Dr N G Coldham, Veterinary Laboratories Agency (£181,072) 
  • Modelling the human asthmatic airway by tissue engineering. Professor D E Davies, University of Southampton (£299,875) 
  • A tissue engineering approach to reduce animal use in renal development and renal organ replacement technology.Professor J A Davies, University of Edinburgh (£364,044) 
  • Metabolically competent stem cell systems: novel means to implement 3Rs in better drug safety assessment. Dr T Friedberg, University of Dundee (£323,624) 
  • Refinement of therapeutic intervention in a mouse model of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Dr A J Grierson, University of Sheffield (£164,760) 
  • Non-invasive identification of individual Xenopus by photography and image processing. Dr M Guille, University of Portsmouth (£59,208) 
  • An in vitro model of the human alveolus to predict the efficacy of systemic antifungal therapy.Dr W Hope, University of Manchester (£210,664) 
  • Reduction, refinement and replacement of animal use by clonal sampling. Dr P Jones, Hutchison/MRC Research Centre (£235,096) 
  • Pseudoislets as a model system to study beta cell dysfunction in diabetes. Professor P M Jones, King’s College London (£387,732) 
  • Humane endpoints for rodenticide testing. Dr A MacNicoll, Central Science Laboratory (£63,780) 
  • Development of a reduced severity rat epilepsy model. Dr G Woodhall, Aston University (£152,048) 

The joint call also resulted in the BBSRC funding three projects for tissue engineering research:

  • Engineering an in vitro model of the mammary gland. Dr Christine Watson - University of Cambridge 
    • This project aims to engineer a synthetic mammary gland that can be used in place of animals for studies on mammary epithelial cell morphogenesis, invasion and differentiation. This will provide a novel resources for  basic research that will reduce the numbers of mice used to study the role of specific genes in mammary glad developmental processes. 
  •  An in vitro model to replace animal testing of muscle physiology and function. Dr Keith Barr - University of Dundee 
    • Skeletal muscle is the focus of intense research as it provides power for locomotion, posture and breathing. This project aims to create an in vitro alternative to the use of animals for studies of muscle physiology and function by engineering a skeletal muscle model from immortalized cell lines, as well as the bioreactors to functionally load and test it. 
  • Novel in vitro dynamic corneal model with online mechanical characterisation for pharmaceutical screening and tissue engineering applications. Dr Ying Yang - Keele University 
    • This project aims to generate a functional in vitro dynamic corneal model and to develop a reliable mechanical characterisation system for use in pharmaceutical screening and tissue engineering applications. This will reduce the use of animals in eye-related research. The novel mechanical characterisation technique will allow on-line and non-destructive easurements of mechanical properties of tissue engineered cornea constructs. 

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