Common guidelines on the use of animals in research have been published by the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and three other major funders of animal experiments in the UK.

While some funders have previously issued guidance on the subject, this is the first time the MRC, the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) have collaborated to produce a common set of principles for using animals in research and applying the 3Rs (replacement, refinement and reduction).

This reflects the growing multidisciplinary nature of bioscience research, in which scientists are often funded by a number of different bodies, the sponsors note. The guidelines also provide an easy reference point for researchers by harmonising and collating existing material from the different funders in a single document, they add.

The publication, Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research: expectations of the major research council and charitable funding bodies, is aimed not only at academic researchers but at the veterinary and animal care staff who work with them, the ethics committees that review research proposals and animal care, and the staff at the research funding bodies’ institutes and units.

To facilitate compliance with the joint guidelines, referees of grant proposals, as well as the panels and committees that make final decisions on awarding grants, will be asked to assess whether the proposed research and practices meet the principles set out in the guidance and whether due attention has been paid to the 3Rs. Where concerns are identified and these points are not adequately addressed by the applicant, the research will not be supported, the funders warn.

The new guidelines summarise the legal controls on the use of animals in research in the UK and address the responsibilities of the relevant parties, the principles and procedures of the funding bodies, and the requirements for research or collaborations outside the UK.

One such requirement is that, when collaborating with laboratories outside the UK, researchers and their local ethics committees must check that welfare standards are consistent with the principles of UK legislation and the joint guidelines. Any significant deviations will need prior approval from the funding body.

The document includes advice on designing experiments to minimise the number of animals used and on the best ways to house, transport, handle and restrain animals to minimise distress.