Funding for animal testing alternatives unveiled

Research into replacing and reducing animal use in scientific experiments is to benefit from £4.8 million in public investment in 2013-14

Animal testing mice

The UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has allocated 20 grants to universities, specialist institutes and small-to-medium-sized enterprises to develop new testing methods, infrastructure and technologies.

Awards include the development of a new way to study tuberculosis infection by using human cells, by Liku Tezera at the University of Southampton, and a project to develop an alternative method for anti-cancer drug development led by Ian MacKenzie, professor of stem cell science at Queen Mary, University of London.

Professor MacKenzie’s 3-D “in vitro” model aims to mimic the tumour environment in an animal and could eventually replace the use of millions of mice globally, said a spokesman for the NC3Rs.

Under European Union law, validation of the efficacy of such methods could be expected to lead to a legal requirement for animal replacement within the EU, he added.

The total also includes £1.3 million under the “Infrastructure for Impact” scheme, launched in February, which is aimed at improving the infrastructure for UK bioscience whilst reducing animal use in areas such as breast cancer and trauma research.

This will include 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 care during surgery.

A further £1.25m is awarded through the CRACK IT Challenges programme, which supports and funds the development of marketable products that have an impact on business and the 3Rs.

The overall allocation is a small drop on last year when the organisation funded £5.1 million in project and pilot study grants, the largest to date since its foundation in 2004.

The rate of increase of previous years has slowed despite the government pledge, outlined in the coalition agreement, to reduce the use of animals in scientific research.

The funding announcement coincides with the appointment of the new NC3Rs board chairman, University of Southampton MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology, Stephen Holgate.

Universities and science minister, David Willetts, said the funding was “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”.

NC3Rs grants are supported via funding from the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Technology Strategy Board.

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