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Indeed, some commentators believe that we may be on the cusp of a 'paradigm shift', where, with imaginative,

creative and bold thinking, new and emerging technological solutions could replace whole swathes of animal use,

for example in toxicity (safety) testing (National Research Council 2007; Basketter et al. 2012; RSPCA undated;

Kimber et al. 2012).

A targeted approach

Targeted efforts to develop replacements can also be very productive (e.g. by drawing together a variety of

relevant expertise to critically evaluate current animal models and see how the research area might be progressed

using non-animal methods). For example, a workshop organised by the UK National Centre for the Three Rs

(NC3Rs) brought together scientists from a range of disciplines to identify non-animal approaches for predicting

whether potential new medicines might cause nausea and vomiting (Andrews 2012; Holmes et al. 2009).

Proposals included:

 compiling a database of available information and developing criteria (an algorithm) to predict which compounds

are likely to cause nausea and/or vomiting (Percie du Sert et al. 2012)

 using social amoebae (simple organisms, commonly known as slime moulds) to identify emetic (vomit-causing),

bitter or pungent- tasting molecules (Robery et al. 2011)

 carrying out in vitro (test-tube) studies of human gut tissue to identify the effects of molecules implicated

in nausea.


The goal of reduction is to ensure that animal studies always use the minimum number of animals needed to

achieve the scientific objectives; neither too many nor too few animals, as the latter might mean that the whole

study has to be repeated. Although reduction might seem a straightforward task, it can be difficult to predict how

many animals a study requires, and a variety of factors relating to experimental design and statistical analysis

need to be taken into account. These include:

 Clear definition of the aims of a study (e.g. according

to SMART criteria - specific, measurable, achievable,

realistic and timely)

 Identification of the most appropriate experimental

design to achieve the scientific objectives, and

consideration of how the results will be analysed,

before carrying out the study, taking advice from a

statistician or other expert colleague as necessary

 Identification and removal of unwanted variation

between individual animals and their experiences,

by controlling factors such as:

 weight, age, sex, strain, health status, and genetic

status (where relevant) of the animals

When reviewing a project, one important question that the ERB can ask is: "How could the research

questions be addressed if the use of animals was not possible?" There may not be a simple solution

for the project under consideration, but the question might stimulate debate and present a good

opportunity to focus thinking on the search for alternative approaches.

N.B. Reducing variation helps the 'signal' (i.e.

the experimental findings) come through loud

and clear, because the 'noise' surrounding the

signal (i.e. other, unwanted sources of variation

and distraction) is reduced. This, in turn, means

that fewer animals need to be used to achieve a

statistically valid result. However, controlling

variation does not mean withholding

provisions necessary for animal welfare,

such as refuges and enrichment. Indeed, lack

of such requirements can cause the animals

stress, which is likely to increase variation.


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