Genetically modified mice.

The 3Rs

Our scientists – like all scientists in the UK – follow the principles of the ‘3Rs’.

All applications for project licences must address how the 3Rs have been considered. At the Crick, these are considered as part of our review process and assessed by the Home Office inspector. 

Each project licence also undergoes a mid-term review where the lead researcher describes the 3Rs initiatives applied during the first half of the project, and AWERB reviews the project’s progress. 

Non-technical summaries of projects licences authorising animal research at the Crick can be found on the non-technical summaries page.

The 3Rs

  • Replacement: Replacing animal research with non-animal alternatives wherever possible. Examples include using cell cultures or organoids, miniature organs that are grown from cells for research.
  • Reduction: Reducing the number of animals used by using the fewest animals needed to get meaningful results. This also includes getting more information from those animals that are used. For example, a well-designed experiment can get more information from a smaller number of animals.
  • Refinement: Refining experiments to minimise harm and discomfort to the animals, and to enhance their wellbeing. For example, using the least invasive methods available to get data from animal experiments.

Applying the 3Rs at the Crick

case study

A database for gene activity

Researchers can now access a database of more than 45,000 genes which shows their activity in the blood of mice with ten different diseases.

In the past, if scientists wanted to know how the activity of a particular gene changes when a mouse has a disease, they would have had to infect mice with the disease, cull them, take samples and extract RNA, an indicator of gene activity. 

Anne O’Garra’s team at the Crick took more than ten years to develop the huge database. It is now openly available to researchers worldwide and has the potential to prevent thousands of mice being used in individual experiments.

Read the news story

case study

Modelling motor neurone disease

Crick and UCL scientist Rickie Patani’s lab have developed a way of studying motor neurone disease that avoids the use of animals. Though mice have been a useful and important animal model for learning about the disease, there are some scientific drawbacks, such as differences in how the disease develops in humans and mice.

Rickie’s team have developed an alternative method. They take skin samples from patients and turn them into stem cells, a type of cell that can develop into any cell type.

They then guide the stem cells into becoming motor neurones, or their supporting cells, by adding chemical cues into the liquid the cells are growing in. The cells can then be studied in the dish. 

The research won a prize from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

Read the full story

case study

‘Smart house’ studies mouse behaviour

Andreas Schaefer and his team study mouse behaviour as part of their research into how the brain works. They have developed a ‘smart house’ for mice, called the ‘Autonomouse’ system, which allows them to study the animals’ behaviour with minimal disturbance for up to 18 months.

Previously, the work would have been manual and laborious with researchers frequently disturbing the mice. In Autonomouse, groups of mice live together in an enriched environment with running wheels, ladders and unlimited access to food and water.

Each mouse is tagged with a unique microchip - like those used for household pets - so that researchers can carefully monitor its activity levels, weight and water consumption. The mice can even train themselves.

“Working with an unstressed, group-housed cohort of mice that train themselves at the time of day that suits them, without the intervention of researchers over long periods of time, makes our experiments better and more efficient,” says Andreas. Access learning tasks with the results automatically recorded.

Find out more

case study

Non-invasive imaging

Our In vivo imaging team plays a major role in applying the 3Rs, as it reduces the need for invasive procedures and allows us to get more information from each animal.

Two examples of in vivo imaging technologies are MRI and CT scanning. For example, we implant mice with tumours to study tumour growth and the effect of experimental treatments on tumour growth.

Imaging technologies allow us to follow the tumour growth in the same animal over time and we can do the experiment with a group of tumour bearing animals and follow that group throughout the running of the experiment.

Before these techniques, we needed to include as many groups of animals as there were timepoints. This means scientists need fewer animals and experiments to get the same, or better, results.