The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction in Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has published its latest research review, which studies NC3Rs' portfolio of research grants and assesses their impact. It includes lots of great examples of research that will help scientists reduce the need to use animals in research to better understand disease and develop new treatments.
The NC3Rs has been around since 2004. It's funded by government, charities and industry to support the 3Rs – replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research. It funds research, produces practical information resources, and is always on hand to offer advice about animal research and the 3Rs. You can see the many facets of its work here.
What is in the research review?
Over a 10 year period, NC3Rs awarded more than £35M through 167 grants. Funding was categorised by types of awards, scientific classification and the ‘R’ it covered. Neuroscience and behaviour received the most funding, and had the most refinement research. Replacement research was spread evenly across all scientific classifications and collectively was the focus of more than half of the total 3R awards.
The technical focus of the programme showed some changes over its 10 years: while in vitro techniques continue to be successful, the last 3 years has seen an increase in the number of projects looking at behavioural modifications and computational models.
Publications arising from NC3Rs-funded research are more highly cited than the world average, although a quarter of the papers were uncited, perhaps reflecting the time taken for new approaches to be adopted.
The report also gives wonderful examples of the research that has been funded. In one project researchers found that sodium valproate (the most commonly used drug to treat epilepsy) affected how slime mould moves by interfering with the same biochemical pathway that has been linked to seizures in humans. As a result, new compounds have been tested on slime mould to work out whether they have any anti-epileptic activity.
NC3Rs has also developed a 3Rs label for its research, that outlines the potential impact of the research on animal numbers and welfare. The slime mould project has the potential to replace half a million mice and rats each year.
What this means for AMRC members
AMRC members support the use of animals to advance medical research, but only where no alternative approaches exist. The NC3Rs' 10 year analysis shows that the UK has expertise in 3Rs research, and can carry out projects with a massive potential impact on the quality of research and the wellbeing of animals. Future 3Rs research is likely to include a number of newly emerging fields like mathematical modelling and tissue engineering. This offers charities a great opportunity to draw on experts from wider fields to answer new and increasingly complex research questions.
At our AGM on 27 November, AMRC members will be ratifying changes to the AMRC animal research policy, which have been developed by the AMRC Animal Research Working Group (you can read more about this in a guest blog from the group's Chair, Dr Kieran Breen from Parkinson's UK). This includes changes to peer review processes to better promote the 3Rs. NC3Rs has advised the working group on these changes and will also be helping to provide tailored support to AMRC members through information packs, newsletters and a joint AMRC/NC3Rs workshop in the New Year.