The UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has announced funding of £4.5 million for 13 new ‘3Rs’ projects.

The funding is nearly £2 million more than the £2.6 million awarded by the NC3Rs in 2008. It will take some of the sting out of last week’s Home Office data showing a 14% increase in the number of animal procedures started in the UK during 2008.

For some critics, the rising trend in procedures is evidence that progress in finding alternatives to animal testing is not what it should be. The Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research has asked the main UK political parties to commit to a ‘roadmap to replacement’ that would identify key target areas for increased funding, technology development, R&D and political support, with the aim of reducing progressively and ultimately replacing animal experiments.

The new funding from the NC3Rs brings the Centre’s investment since its foundation in 2004 up to nearly £13 million on 54 different grants. The latest grants involve projects harnessing state-of-the-art technologies such as induced pluripotent stem cells, or investigating alternative research models such as snails, slime moulds and flies.

“This is great news, particularly when you consider the recent increase in laboratory animal use in the UK,” commented NC3Rs chief executive Dr Vicky Robinson. “If we are to reduce animal use and at the same time continue to develop new treatments for diseases, then we must engage the best minds and harness the best science and technology in this endeavour.”

The UK “continues to lead the way in efforts to reduce and replace the use of animals in research”, Robinson said. “These are exciting times for scientific research but we should not underestimate the challenge of finding alternatives to animal use. To succeed, we need many more scientists to be actively involved.”

Among the projects supported by the latest round of NC3Rs funding are:

- Identifying reliable biomarkers of nausea susceptibility in humans, with the aim of replacing or refining animal models of nausea physiology.
- Fully characterising a humanised mouse model of thrombosis, in which the mouse would be infused with platelets from human rather than mouse donors. This has the potential to reduce animal use by 50% compared with the current refined mouse model of thrombosis.
- Developing and validating in vitro methods of assaying cancer stem-cell responses to therapeutic agents (the current model involves transplanting tumour cells into mice).
- Replacing, refining and reducing animal use in epilepsy research by means of a non-sentient model, the soil amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.

The NC3Rs also noted that the research projects cover major areas of health concern such as cancer, motor neurone disease and Alzheimer’s disease.