The UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has raised investment in alternative research models for the fifth year running, putting £2.6 million into10 new 3Rs projects.

The grants go to researchers at the Universities of Glasgow, Liverpool and Aberdeen as well as Brunel University, Cardiff University, University College London, Imperial College London, St George’s London, Cefas (the UK government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) and Intervet (part of Schering-Plough animal health).

Six of the newly funded projects mainly involve replacing the use of animals in research, while two are geared to reduction and two to refinement. Three of the grants are for replacing, refining and reducing the use of fish in research, which was one of two priority areas in this year’s funding scheme. Two of the awards relate to the other priority area, which was refining rodent husbandry, care and procedures.

Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said the Centre had in just five years developed “a highly competitive funding stream attracting very high-quality proposals from leading UK scientists and institutions. We have now awarded a total of £8 million and we are starting to see the results of this in terms of reducing the number of animals used, improving animal welfare and supporting research to understand and develop treatments for human diseases”.

The Centre, which brings together stakeholders in the 3Rs (Reduction, Refinement and Replacement of laboratory animals) from academia, industry, government and animal welfare groups, will see its funding from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills more than double over the next few years.

Last December, the government announced that funds for the NC3Rs channelled through the Medical Research Council and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council would rise from £2.37 million in 2007/08 to £3.47 million in 2008/09, £4.27 million in 2009/10 and £5.07 million in 2010/11.

Nonetheless, it continues to take flak over consecutive annual increases in the number of animal testing procedures started in the UK, a trend attributed largely to increased use of genetically modified animals.

Last year the volume of procedures rose by around 6% to just over 3.2 million. The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection said the number of animal experiments had grown by a cumulative 21% since the current Labour government came to power.