Tips for applicants

Drawing on our experience of the past 13 years of reviews, we have put together the following ten tips to help any applicant prepare and respond to the questions we may pose during our review of their application. These tips are taken from a blog post published in February 2018 to mark our 900th completed review, which provides further details on the application process.

  1. Be open and honest. The goal of our review is not to catch applicants out, or to prevent the appropriate use of animals in research. Our reviewers all have doctoral degrees and practical experience of working in animal research, as well as 3Rs expertise. They appreciate the challenges such work can present. Honesty about the potential welfare issues involved in a study protocol and its severity classification will always be received better than will obfuscation.
  2. Demonstrate that you’ve considered the 3Rs in your research plan. Implementation of the 3Rs is a condition of securing research funds. Therefore, demonstrate how you’ve taken these principles into account, with direct reference to your experimental design and the procedures you will use. Non-specific statements such as “We will endeavour to use the minimum number of animals at all stages of our research” are not sufficient.
  3. Treat the questions seriously. Pithy, dismissive answers rarely go down well in any review process. Demonstrate that you take the 3Rs and your responsibilities as an animal researcher seriously. If appropriate detail is not provided, it will mean further work for you later as the NC3Rs seeks the required information.
  4. Answer the questions fully, with reference to the entire application. As part of their assessment, NC3Rs reviewers will read your entire application, not just the answers to the standard questions about animal use. Answers that are inconsistent with the rest of the application, or irrelevant to the question, will be followed up. Cutting and pasting text from elsewhere in the application doesn’t usually work well.
  5. Be consistent. Conflicting information across sections of an application on factors such as number of animals required, procedures they will be subject to, and the institutions that will be utilised at, appear quite regularly in applications we review. Resolving these inconsistencies before submission will save time for everybody.
  6. Consider your justification for the choice of species fully and logically. “Special protection” means you cannot utilize these higher mammal species if another would be suitable to answer your research question. Explain in your justification for the choice of species why no other species would be suitable. Try to avoid broad generalisations such as “Non-human primates are more similar to man” and instead focus on providing a scientific rationale (e.g. lack of the anatomical structures, pathways, targets or behaviours of interest in other species).
  7. Always back up your animal numbers. Incomplete or indiscernible justifications for the number of animals required in an application will always result in further questions from our reviewers. This can be avoided by providing the workings of your sample size calculation (where one is appropriate), stating each of the variables and the software used to perform the calculation. Be sure to justify your chosen effect size (i.e. the magnitude of response which would be of scientific or clinical interest and worthy of further investigation) and variability (e.g. based on your previous experiments or the published literature).
  8. Consider submitting an EDA diagram or report as part of your application. By providing tailored feedback on the design of your experiment and supporting power calculations, randomisation and blinding, use of the Experimental Design Assistant (EDA) sends a strong signal to reviewers (both scientific and 3Rs) that your experimental design has been optimised to yield the best possible data from the lowest number of animals. Many funding bodies (e.g. NC3Rs, BBSRC, MRC) recommend use of this free online tool and we already see EDA diagrams included within applications. Applicants will soon be able to upload an EDA PDF report as part of their application, summarising the essential information the panel want to see on experimental design.
  9. Pick your CRO wisely. If requesting funds for drug safety and efficacy studies, choose an appropriate contract research organisation (CRO). The cheapest option will likely fall below the animal welfare standards required in the UK and expected by the funders. If you haven’t yet chosen a CRO, let us know and don't give speculative answers. If funded, it is likely that your award will be ‘milestoned’ with release of funds for studies with higher species made conditional on a satisfactory NC3Rs review once the contractor has been chosen.
  10. Use the guidelines and 3Rs resources available from the NC3Rs. There is a wealth of information available on the NC3Rs to website to support you in applying the 3Rs and meeting funders’ expectations in this regard. Some key resources are given below.