Cracking the challenge – reducing our reliance on animal research while promoting scientific innovation and development

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) will today (Tuesday 20 September 2011) launch a new funding scheme, the CRACK IT Challenges, that will provide £4.25 million for companies and researchers to develop solutions to current problems that will stimulate innovation in the biosciences while contributing to the replacement, refinement and reduction of the use of animals in research (the 3Rs). 

The initial six CRACK IT Challenges have been developed by the NC3Rs and leading industrial companies. Each of the six Challenges has one or more industrial sponsors and addresses a specific need in research or technology. The Challenges cover research areas such as the development of in vitro testing. (A full list of the Challenges is attached). For example, one of the Challenges seeks to develop a tiny wireless system that can be worn comfortably by mice whilst scientists study their brain activity to understand disorders such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease. Use of a wireless recording device will allow the mice to move around freely and be housed in groups, improving the welfare of the animals compared to current methods.

Speaking at the London launch of CRACK IT, Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Building links between companies and researchers means we can identify the challenges facing the life sciences industry and develop innovative alternatives to animal testing. The Government is committed to ensuring that the opportunities presented by scientific advances are used to replace, reduce and refine animal use wherever possible."

The competition is open to all organisations in the public and private sectors; proposers of shortlisted projects will be invited to present their ideas at a "Dragons' Den" panel meeting. The successful bids will be announced early in 2012. Each contract will be worth between £500,000 and £1 million and, in addition, the sponsoring company will provide in-kind support.

Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs said: "CRACK IT will connect academic and industry scientists to accelerate the translation of new ideas and methods into actual practice. We are inviting mathematical modellers, computer scientists, electronics specialists and many others from a wide range of disciplines to present new ways of reducing reliance on animal research in a "Dragons Den" style competition. Successful bids will receive a contract, typically of between half a million pounds and one million pounds. In addition, a range of major companies will provide support. The NC3Rs has launched CRACK IT to help identify the new technologies that will drive future reductions in animal use."

Also featured at the launch is a new publication profiling highlights of NC3Rs funded research. Fourteen case studies selected from a range of disciplines and research institutions illustrate the breadth of the NC3Rs research portfolio which in addition to delivering significant 3Rs benefits also generates relevant, robust and predictable models and tools for scientists to address some of the major human and animal health issues facing society.

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