Work to replace and reduce animal use in science and improve animal welfare has today received a £4.8m funding boost with the award of 20 research and technology development grants to universities, specialist institutes and small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Novel methods being funded by the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) will reduce reliance on a range of animal species and accelerate the discovery of treatments across several therapeutic areas. These include an alternative method for anti-cancer drug development to replace the use of millions of mice globally, the development of an entirely new way of studying tuberculosis infection by using human cells, and a 3D cell model of the bovine airway which uses abattoir material to study bovine respiratory diseases, the cause of around 30% of cattle deaths worldwide.
As part of the allocation, £1.3m of strategic funding goes towards improving the infrastructure for UK bioscience whilst reducing animal use in areas such as breast cancer and trauma research. This includes the setting-up of collaborative networks to share and analyse data, and a multi-user, multi-centre magnetic resonance imaging initiative. Infrastructure funding is also provided for an e-learning tool to improve training in laboratory animal anaesthesia and perioperative care.
£1.25m is awarded through the NC3Rs CRACK IT Challenges programme, which funds commercial technology development in response to major animal research challenges faced by industry and academia.
Through this programme, a novel project with Edinburgh-based SME Actual Analytics Ltd has received funding to develop a mouse cage with an integrated ‘big brother’-style video monitoring system, which will record specific types of behaviour and allow for social interaction in mice being studied for nervous system disorders. The automated, non-surgical system will improve animal welfare for this type of research since animal handling and other interventions would be greatly reduced. It will also allow for monitoring of individual mice when housed together in their natural grouping, rather than individually, producing more reliable results compared with current observational methods.
Today’s funding announcement coincides with the appointment of the new NC3Rs Board Chairman, asthma expert Professor Stephen Holgate CBE, University of Southampton.
Commenting on this year’s grant awards and his appointment, Professor Holgate said:
“These awards demonstrate the ingenuity of the UK’s scientific sector to develop smart approaches which reduce the reliance on animal use and further improve welfare practices across many different research areas. I am greatly looking forward to continuing my work with the NC3Rs over the next five years in this new capacity and driving forward the vital work to replace, reduce and refine animal use in science.”
Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said:
“This funding from the NC3Rs to support research, infrastructure and technology development is vital to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of international efforts to reduce animal use in science while seeking breakthroughs in treating serious disease.”
The Medical Research Council (MRC) is the major core funder of the NC3Rs, Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive, MRC, said:
“The use of animals in research is still vitally important and the MRC only funds research where proper consideration has been given to the replacement, refinement or reduction of animal use in a study’s design. The work of the NC3Rs provides the highest quality research into how to achieve these criteria and we have been and will continue to be a major funder of their work.
“The appointment of Professor Stephen Holgate is great news. Stephen’s commitment and drive is well known to the MRC, not least for the way in which he expertly chaired our Population and Systems Medicine Board.”