Ian Pearson, the UK Minister of State for Science and Innovation, has announced funding of £2.4 million for 11 new projects aimed at providing alternatives to animal testing in research.

This year’s allocation for grant awards by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is a £1 million increase on 2006. Funds over and above that amount were sought when the NC3Rs found that the number of high-quality grant applications received exceeded the budget available. Increased contributions from the Medical Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Wellcome Trust made up the shortfall.

The stronger commitment to the 3Rs comes at a sensitive time for animal researchers, with revisions to Europe's Directive 86/609/EC on the protection of laboratory animals looming this autumn and the UK government recently found by a High Court judge to have acted unlawfully in assigning a ‘moderate’ severity rating to a licence for invasive brain surgery on marmosets performed at a Cambridge University neuroscience laboratory.

In July the Home Office released data showing that just over 3.01 million scientific procedures involving animals were started in the UK during 2006, a rise of around 4% on the previous year.

Six of the 11 projects receiving NC3Rs funding this year are geared primarily to the replacement of animals in research, four to refinement and one to reduction, although there is some overlap. There were two priority areas in this funding round: tissue engineering, run jointly with the BBSRC and accounting for four of grants awarded; and refinement of procedures of substantial severity (three grants).

One successful application came from Professor Jamie Davies at the University of Edinburgh, who will explore tissue engineering as a potential replacement for animals used in research into kidney regeneration and transplantation.