Abstract Ethics on animal use in science in Western society is based on utilitarianism, weighing the harms and benefits to the animals involved against those of the intended human beneficiaries. The 3Rs concept (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) is both a robust framework for minimizing animal use and suffering (addressing the harms to animals) and a means of supporting high quality science and translation (addressing the benefits). The ambiguity of basic research performed early in the research continuum can sometimes make harm-benefit analysis more difficult since anticipated benefit is often an incremental contribution to a field of knowledge. On the other hand, benefit is much more evident in translational research aimed at developing treatments for direct application in humans or animals suffering from disease. Though benefit may be easier to define, it should certainly not be considered automatic. Issues related to model validity seriously compromise experiments and have been implicated as a major impediment in translation, especially in complex disease models where harms to animals can be intensified. Increased investment and activity in the 3Rs is delivering new research models, tools and approaches with reduced reliance on animal use, improved animal welfare, and improved scientific and predictive value.
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In addition to the implementation of existing 3Rs methods, there are exciting opportunities open to investigators to contribute to the ambitious challenge of developing novel research models and tools aimed at reducing animal use and improving animal welfare. Such research is now a legitimate scientific goal in its own right, and provides new opportunities for funding, technological innovation, multidisciplinary collaboration and publishing. Investigators in the biosciences should consider applying to the competitive funding schemes available within their region (e.g. UK NC3Rs, www.nc3rs.org.uk, EU Horizon 2020, http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/). Nor is progress in the 3Rs limited to technological development and hypothesis driven research. There are opportunities to join in with pre-competitive data sharing to identify optimized study designs and protocols and to generate an evidence base to stimulate changes in policy, regulations and practice ( Chapman et al., 2013; Robinson et al., 2008; Prescott et al., 2010 ).
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- Animal welfare
- Drug development