Major UK funders publish common rules for animal research

Five of the UK's major funders of animal research today published common guidelines for using animals in research. Compliance with the common guidelines will be a condition of funding for new grants involving the use of animals.

One requirement is that, when collaborating with laboratories outside the UK, researchers and their local ethics committees must check that welfare standards are consistent with the principles in UK legislation and the new guidelines. Any significant deviations will need prior approval from the funding body.

Although some funders have published guidance previously, this is the first time that the MRC, BBSRC, NERC, Wellcome Trust and NC3Rs have collaborated to produce a common set of principles for using animals in research and applying the 3Rs (replacement, refinement and reduction). It reflects the growing multidisciplinarity of bioscience research in which scientists are often funded by several different bodies. The guidelines outline the legal controls on using animals in research in the UK and fill in the details on how the 3Rs should be applied.

Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of MRC, said: "The MRC is pleased to have been involved in the production of this booklet, which sets out very clearly what the funders expect of those who work with animals. Good animal welfare and full implementation of the 3Rs are essential for good science and for retaining the support of the public in the use of animals in research."

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of NC3Rs, said: "This guidance demonstrates the firm commitment of the funding bodies to applying the 3Rs as widely as possible. The NC3Rs is delighted that these major funders speak with one voice on such an important issue for the scientific community."

Dr Mark Walport, director of Wellcome Trust, said: "It is important for the Wellcome Trust to ensure that the scientists that we support conduct their research to the highest standards.  The UK's major research funders work together in considering the welfare of animals in research and promoting the 3Rs.  This guidance sets clear standards for the responsible use of animals in bioscience research."

Steve Visscher, interim chief executive of BBSRC, said: "Basic science often reveals new options for replacing, refining and reducing the number of animals used in research, but that use remains necessary in many key areas of biomedical science. We welcome this opportunity to re-emphasise our commitment to ensure that scientists continue to work at the very high standards demanded by UK funders."

The guidelines are aimed not just at university researchers, but also the veterinary and animal care staff who work with them, the ethics committees that review research proposals and animal care, and the staff at the institutes and units of the research funding bodies.

By harmonising and bringing existing material from the different funders together in one document, these guidelines provide an easy reference for researchers. They include advice on designing experiments to minimise the number of animals used, and also the best ways to house, transport, handle and restrain animals to minimise distress.

To facilitate compliance, referees of grant proposals, and the panels and committees that make final decisions on awarding money, will be asked to assess whether the proposed research and practices meet the principles in the guidance and whether due attention has been given to the 3Rs. Where concerns are identified, if these points are not adequately addressed by the applicant, then the research will not be supported.

The guidelines update and expand original guidance published by MRC in 1993 for medical researchers and continue to reflect the rigorous and considered approach to animal use that is expected by the funding bodies.


Notes for Editors:

  1. The guidelines ‘Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research: Expectations to the major research council and charitable funding bodies’ apply to the use of vertebrate animals in bioscience research with the potential to cause animals harm. 
  2. UK research using protected animals in scientific procedures with the potential to cause harm is regulated by Animals (Scientific Procedures Act) 1986, administered by the Home Office. The Act requires that researchers apply the 3Rs, but contains minimal detail as to how this should be done. 
  3. The guidelines update and expand original guidance published by MRC in 1993 for medical researchers and continue to reflect the rigorous and considered approach to animal use that is expected by the funding bodies. 
  4. The Medical Research Council (MRC) supports the best scientific research to improve human health. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health medicine and has led to pioneering discoveries in our understanding of the human body and the diseases which affect us all.
  5. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.
  6. The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £400 million a year from the government's science budget, which is used to provide independent research and training in the environmental sciences.
  7. The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £650 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.
  8. The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) – an independent scientific organisation, set up by the Government, to find innovative solutions to applying the 3Rs. The Centre funds high-quality research, organises workshops and symposia to disseminate and advance the 3Rs, and develops information resources and guidelines. More information can be found at


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