The Three Rs
The Three Rs (3Rs) strategies of replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of laboratory animals
are key guiding principles for everyone involved in animal research and testing, and they permeate all
aspects of the work of ERBs. This chapter explains each "R", with examples; and examines how ERBs
can help to support and promote their application.
The 3Rs principles of humane experimental
technique were first set out by Russell and Burch
in 1959 and are now widely accepted in the
international scientific community and translated
into associated laws and guidelines. The 3Rs
have to be actively addressed, and the work of
the ERB can be pivotal in creating a "culture of
care" that provides a driver and fosters progress
in this respect.
Applying the 3Rs thoughtfully and consistently is
not only an ethical imperative to reduce or avoid
animal suffering, but is also vital in ensuring the
quality of science (see box below). As Russell
and Burch (1959) point out: treating animals in
the most humane way possible "is actually a
prerequisite for successful animal experiments".
Good animal welfare is essential for good science
The Three Rs (3Rs)
Replacement: methods or strategies that replace or
avoid the use of animals in research and testing.
Reduction: reducing the numbers of animals used to
the minimum necessary to achieve the scientific
objectives, for example by improving experimental
design and statistical analyses.
Refinement: refining scientific procedures and other
factors affecting animals (for example, transport,
housing, restraint) to reduce suffering and improve
the animals" welfare at every stage of their lives.
Good animal welfare is vital not only because of its positive effects on the animals, but because it is essential to
good science. This emphasises the importance of all the functions of the ERB.
When animals are stressed, they may appear outwardly normal but their physiology may be affected in a
number of ways (e.g. changes in heart rate and the levels of "stress" hormones in the blood). This can influence
the variability, reliability and reproducibility of scientific data.
Reducing animal suffering and improving welfare increases the reliability and reproducibility of data, which helps
to reduce the likelihood that experiments will have to be repeated, and can reduce the variability of results,
allowing smaller group sizes to be used.
What lay members should expect
Different ERBs may approach the 3Rs in different ways, but they key tasks are to:
review how well the 3Rs are applied in project applications
encourage and promote 3Rs initiatives and activities throughout the institution, encompassing all aspects of
laboratory animal care and use
collect and disseminate 3Rs information within institutions and more widely.
At an institutional level, this may be done by the ERB itself or there may be one or more nominated individuals and
groups (active champions) where scientists, animal care and other staff with relevant expertise take responsibility
for leading on the 3Rs, working together to advance their implementation and provide information and advice to
others, keeping staff up to date with developments in good practice (see also RSPCA/LASA, 2010).