The UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has teamed up with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to award a total of £1.5 million for the development of advanced imaging technologies.

Five projects will be supported at UK universities under the ‘Imaging Technology Development for the 3Rs’ strategic-funding call, with the aim of maximising the technologies’ potential to reduce animal use in a diverse range of preclinical research applications.

The EPSRC is co-funding £500,000 of the funding call, which builds on a previous collaboration with NC3Rs on mathematical modelling in toxicology.

It also draws on and advances the UK’s “first-class” capability in imaging technologies, noted the Council’s chief executive, Professor Philip Nelson.

Improving utility

The research projects will seek to improve the utility of a broad spectrum of imaging techniques, including bioluminescence, radiolabelling and implantable technology.

The goal is to meet the objectives of the 3Rs programme by extending the use of these technologies in applications where they are not currently feasible. 

For example, non-invasive imaging can minimise the suffering of laboratory animals, while longitudinal imaging throughout a study cuts down on the number of animals needed for testing.

Eight challenges

In February 2013, the NC3Rs convened a group of experts from academia and industry to explore the limitations of current imaging techniques and identify technology-development opportunities to advance the application of imaging in the biosciences and the 3Rs.

This group identified eight key challenges for technology development in the field:

  • Animal handling and welfare assessment
  • Tracking cell fate and distribution
  • 3D gene expression profiling
  • Combining technologies
  • Imaging bioengineered tissues
  • Molecular imaging of biodistribution
  • Improving sensitivity and resolution
  • Phenotyping genetically modified mice.

The NC3Rs subsequently held a workshop for the preclinical imaging community, across sectors and disciplines, to sift out opportunities to address these challenges.

The workshop was hosted jointly with the Technology Strategy Board-funded Electronics, Sensors and Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network in June 2013.

It provided an open forum for dialogue and information exchange around relevant  technology development and to prioritise the eight challenges for the NC3Rs- EPSRC funding call.

The five projects funded under the call are: