Do you know your 3Rs?

31 October 2016 - By: SEB

Do you know your 3Rs?

Animal Symposium

Whether you work on zebrafish, mice or frogs, it has never been so important for scientists to demonstrate ethical practices when using animals in research. Between 29 June-1st July, over 60 delegates met in London at the SEB Animal Symposium, “Improving experimental approaches in animal biology: Implementing the 3Rs” to share ideas and best practice for reduction, refinement and replacement in animal experiments.

“Using animals in experiments is really scrutinised now and we are expected to justify it quite clearly,” said Lynne Sneddon (University of Liverpool) who co-chaired the event. “Grant applications often have a specific section on how you will implement the 3Rs and you can be rejected if it isn’t filled in properly”. As such, the first two days of the meeting gave a broad showcase of the ‘state of the art’ for each of the 3Rs.

For refining experiments, better ways to assess animal welfare were discussed alongside methods that reduce the invasiveness of techniques. Johnny Roughan (Newcastle University, United Kingdom), for example, talked about how inflammation, which is a likely source of post-surgical pain, can be quantified by imaging. "This has shown that certain analgesics which prevent inflammation do not ease pain in mice, suggesting that more effective drugs need to be identified," he said. As for replacement, “we heard how cell lines and invertebrate models can give you an advantage over complicated mammalian systems – simple systems can give a lot of insight,” said Lynne. Statistical packages meanwhile, can help researchers reduce the number of animals used by calculating the minimum amount required to test a hypothesis effectively. 

Bringing together speakers from a diverse range of animal systems - including snakes, amphibians, fish and mammals - proved fruitful in opening discussions and exchanging ideas. “I have since been sent some videos of snails from George and Ildiko Kemenes' lab at the University of Sussex to see if my behavioural-tracking system for fish would work on them,” says Lynne. “The atmosphere was very open, honest and supportive. It was very successful in terms of networking and we had some really good feedback from the delegates”. 

The focus on the final day was on the training, grants and resources available to help researchers implement the 3Rs. This included representatives from the BBSRC, the Laboratory Animal Science Association (LASA) and the National Centre for the 3Rs (NC3Rs). Afterwards, Understanding Animal Research gave a session on the importance of engaging the public with any animal-based research. “The public don’t want to be misled – they don’t want you to hide the fact you are using animals,” said Lynne. “What they want to know is that what you are doing is beneficial and that you are doing it in the best possible way”.  

Given that animal ethics should be discussed the moment when students begin planning experiments, the SEB+ Section sponsored a session that highlighted innovative ways to teach the 3Rs principle. “We should really be teaching ethical thinking from undergraduate days so that the 3Rs becomes embedded in their psyche and eventually becomes instinctive,” said Lynne. After all, practicing ethical science is the best approach for both researchers and their subjects. “Ethical science is good science,” concluded Lynne. “If you improve the welfare of your animals, you have better quality data with less variation, and your science is much better”. 


View the SEB Code of Conduct for Animal Welfare.

Category: Animal Biology
Caroline Wood-Author Profile

Caroline Wood

Caroline Wood was the SEB’s 2014 science communication intern. Since then, Caroline has been a regular contributor the SEB, reporting on events and writing insightful features for our members.
Caroline has an undergraduate degree from Durham University in Cell Biology and is currently a PHD student at Sheffield University studying parasitic Striga weeds that infect food crops. You can read her blog here.