Improvements and alternatives
Imperial is committed to finding replacements for animal research, to reducing the number of animals used in experiments and to refining methods to minimise suffering. This set of principles is often referred to as the 3Rs.
This commitment is borne out in the way we appraise individual research projects, as well as the innovative research methods our scientists and doctors have developed, and the leading role some of our staff take to improve professional standards across the animal research community.
Imperial projects have won two national awards for excellence from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). The College has also won £2.6 million in research funding from NC3Rs over the last decade.
Imperial is signed up to NC3Rs’ ARRIVE guidelines that aim to minimise unnecessary animal studies. They are a 20-point checklist for researchers reporting on animal experiments designed to ensure any data collected can be fully evaluated and utilised by other scientists.
Imperial's Dr Michael Emerson took a leading role in developing the ARRIVE guidelines. Dr Emerson is a Senior Leturer in the National Heart and Lung Institute. He has also been recognised for reducing the number of mice used in his research on how blood clots. You can hear more about his work in the audio (right).
Below are some more examples of innovations in the 3Rs made by Imperial staff.
Human stem cells to study heart disease
The British Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine Centre, directed by Professor Sian Harding, is pioneering the use of stem cells made from skin or blood cells from heart patients to produce beating cardiac muscle in a petri dish. These cells show the same disease features as the patient’s heart, such as poor beating and disturbances of rhythm. They offer an alternative to animal models of heart disease, allowing us to study the effects of drugs or gene therapy. The work leading up to the creation of this Centre was supported by a number of awards from the NC3Rs.
Using computers to study the immune system
Juliane Liepe recently won a prestigious David Sainsbury fellowship. The fellowship provides funding for three years to support her work developing computer programmes that can replace some animal experiments or reduce the number of animals used in experiments. She will use these programmes to study the body’s immune system, in particular how immune cells find their way from the blood stream to the site of an injury.
Liepe will begin by studying the movement of these cells in zebra fish then use the data she gathers to create a computer model. The model will be used to predict the same immune response in other animals, such as mice, and in humans. If successful it will mean fewer experiments on zebra fish and on mice in the future, and reduce the risk to people taking part in clinical trials.
Imaging techniques to tackle bacterial infections
In 2012 a new centre opened at Imperial which uses state-of-the-art imaging techniques to research diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea and meningitis.
Work at the centre includes labelling bacteria with visible-light markers to track the progress of a gut infection in a single mouse. The data collected is used to create a video of the infection. Imaging a live mouse in real time avoids the need for culling animals and examining them at different stages of infection, significantly reducing the number of animals used. This research is carried out by Professor Gadi Frankel, whose lab also won the first NC3Rs Prize in 2006.