Tissue engineering, non-invasive imaging and mathematical modelling could be used as alternatives
The UK Government has outlined how it will reduce, replace and refine the use of animals in research – known as ‘the 3Rs’.
It says it will encourage researchers to use alternatives wherever possible, but there is no commitment to reduce the total number of animal experiments, which has been increasing. This is in spite of the Coalition's pledge to promote reduction.
The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) said it is disappointed that no targets have been set in the Government’s plan. It said it would have liked to 'see an expansion of the current programme and more investment into the search for alternatives so that more non-animal methods become available to be used in bio-medical research'.
FRAME’s ultimate aim is the elimination of the need to use laboratory animals in any kind of scientific or medical procedures.
Rather than cut animal experiments, the government said it would promote new, more ethical research techniques to 'ensure better science is delivered alongside the highest levels of welfare for animals used in research'.
This delivery plan puts science at the heart of our commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in research
The plan has been developed between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Home Office and the Department of Health, with contributions from across Government.
'This delivery plan puts science at the heart of our commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in research,' said David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister.
'It highlights the important work our life sciences sector is doing to provide a package that is good for patients, animal welfare, the environment and the UK’s economic growth.'
He added: 'Animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives. But the results we get from research can transform lives and pave the way for new and ground-breaking medical advances. By encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will not only improve standards of animal welfare but also reduce costs to industry.'
Tissue engineering, research using human stem cells, non-invasive imaging and mathematical modelling are among the advances already being embraced as alternatives to using live animals.
The UK’s National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has been leading the way in this area, and has already invested more than £35m to support this work. As a result, trials into cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, as well as toxicity testing, have all seen reductions in animal use.
The scientific case for developing new techniques that do not involve animals is as strong as the moral one
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker, who is leading the Home Office work, said: 'I am committed to reducing the use of animals in research. The scientific case for developing new techniques that do not involve animals is as strong as the moral one.
'Through our delivery plan, we are showing how alternative methods can provide fast, high-quality research that also boosts economic growth.
'Our commitment will pave the way for future practice, both at home and abroad, and will cement the UK’s place as an international leader in this field.'
The Technology Strategy Board is also leading work to invest up to £4m in early stage feasibility studies to help accelerate the development of the uptake of new non-animal technologies. This will give businesses the opportunity to work with the UK’s research base to develop new technologies that could better predict the effect of new drugs in humans and the environment.