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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science
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New report on the 3Rs in animal research

Cover of report

An independent report has assessed the 3Rs landscape, making recommendations to support implementation across the academic community.

On paper, the UK has a comprehensive review and regulatory framework for animal research. Opportunities for replacement, reduction and refinement (the 3Rs) should be considered by the funding body, the local ethics committee (the AWERB) and the Animals in Science Regulatory Unit (ASRU) within the Home Office, before any experiment which uses animals is approved. Whilst there have been significant advances in the 3Rs, in practice there is often a long lag between their development and routine use in laboratories or animal facilities. The challenges and barriers which cause this lag affect the delivery of the NC3Rs mission.

The NC3Rs is committed to promoting a research, policy and regulatory environment actively supportive of the 3Rs. To understand how the system of checks and approvals for animal research could better promote the uptake of 3Rs approaches, we commissioned Dr Frances Rawle, former Director of Policy, Ethics and Governance at the MRC, to produce a detailed review of the current 3Rs landscape. Specifically, Frances was asked to:

  • Map in detail what the various regulatory and review processes and bodies currently do to ensure compliance with 3Rs principles and to promote adoption of 3Rs advances.
  • Identify any current variations in review processes, gaps (or overlaps) in coverage and lessons to be learned from examples of particularly effective practice.
  • Explore opportunities for adjusting current processes and responsibilities to cover any gaps, remove unnecessary duplication and more effectively promote adoption of 3Rs advances.

Key findings and recommendations

In the report, Frances highlights that:

  • Replacement of animal use could be more fully considered throughout the review process, from funder to regulator. Funders are well placed to target their expertise and processes to better consider replacements during the review of grant applications and to provide additional resource to validate new alternatives alongside established animal models.
  • The focus on reduction has increased in recent years. There is greater scrutiny by funders and the AWERB of experimental design, but investment is needed to address a lack of biostatisticians familiar with animal research. AWERBs could take responsibility for improving the efficiency of rodent breeding and colony management and promote systems which maximise the use of tissues from culled animals.
  • Refinement was the best addressed ‘R’ with AWERBs and ASRU frequently identifying opportunities to minimise animal suffering and improve welfare at project and institution-wide levels. The report highlights a need for better sharing of knowledge and best practice to maximise advances in this area.

Frances Rawle’s report identifies a number of areas that need improving to ensure the oversight of animal research is as effective as possible and that the opportunities for implementing the 3Rs are fully embraced. There are important actions for the NC3Rs to take and we will be addressing these over the coming months. There are also actions for other organisations to consider in order to meet their responsibilities on animal research and I hope that the report will catalyse a coherent and coordinated approach. I would like to thank Frances for the hard work that has gone into producing the review and all of the individuals who contributed to her deliberations”.

Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive NC3Rs 

The report, titled ‘The role of review and regulatory approvals processes for animal research in supporting implementation of the 3Rs’ is intended for use by funders, AWERBs and ASRU but is relevant to all those in the academic sector whose work involves the use of animals.

What actions will the NC3Rs take?

The review and recommendations of the report are independent of the NC3Rs.

There are a number of recommendations directed at the NC3Rs, and we will consider how to best address these over the coming months. We already have several plans in place that are relevant to the points raised, these include:

  • Evolving the Skills and Knowledge Transfer funding scheme to support researchers to test new 3Rs approaches alongside existing models.
  • Updating the Experimental Design Assistant to add new functionality and improve the user experience.
  • Establishing an animal welfare steering committee to disseminate best practice between research groups and institutions.

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