The UK Government has allocated £1 million pounds for research projects aiming to find alternatives to help minimise the use of animal models in research.

The announcement comes shortly after a report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in the UK, which called in May for regular review of the use of animals in medical research and greater efforts to develop alternatives [[26/05/05e]]. Among other things, this found that while there was clearly still a need to use animals in research, conservatism among researchers was an obstacle to discussing potential replacements.

And the UK’s efforts in this area are in accord with those of the European Union. An upcoming EU directive aims to abolish animal testing in scientific experiments if an alternative test exists.

Importantly, the Nuffield’s recommendations in the report centred on the concept of the "Three Rs"– the replacement of animals with non-animal alternatives, refinement of procedures to minimise suffering and reduction in the number of animals needed to answer a research question.

The new funding, granted by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, will go towards eight projects that span the 3Rs. Six of the projects will address replacement, one refinement and one reduction. For example, a project at Cardiff University will focus on developing a cell-based alternative to animal models of diabetic ulcers, while UK company CXR Biosciences gets funding to develop cell lines for predicting drug metabolism and toxicity.

The Centre said it will invest additional funds in 3Rs research each year, and scientists can apply for funds to advance and implement the 3Rs in all areas of research and testing. The N3CRs was first launched last year with £500,000 in start-up grants, and so far has been awarded £3 million in funding from the UK Government.

Last year, there were almost 2.8 million experiments on animals in the UK, a similar number to 2003. These figures were up on previous years but still represent around half the number of experiments carried out in the 1970s [[08/09/04f]].