£1.5m invested to develop imaging technology to improve animal research

The funding will support five projects to increase the utility of a broad spectrum of imaging techniques, including bioluminescence, radio labelling and implantable technology. The projects aim to extend the use of imaging technologies in applications not currently possible with a view to improving animal research, for example by using non-invasive imaging, which minimises suffering, or longitudinal imaging throughout the study, which reduces the number of animals required.

The strategic funding from the NC3Rs, in collaboration with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), follows the identification of eight key technology challenges by leading researchers in the imaging field, which once overcome will enable preclinical imaging to both meet the needs of the bioscience sector and impact on the 3Rs.

Included in the funding is a project at the University of Nottingham that will utilise near-infrared quantum dots, a type of fluorescent marker, to improve sensitivity and resolution when imaging cancer cells in mice. The technology would overcome the current difficulties associated with imaging at a deep-tissue level, and enable repeat imaging of the same animal over time.

This non-invasive technique would also improve experimental relevance by allowing patient-derived xenografts to be implanted at the original tumour site, rather than below the skin a practice which facilitates easy imaging but which is not representative of most human cancers, and so less effective at predicting whether a potential drug will fail in the clinic.

Researchers estimate that the refined pre-clinical cancer models made possible by this new imaging technique could reduce animal use in cancer studies by approximately 170,000 per year.

Commenting on the awards, Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs, said: "The potential for technological development to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in science is now well recognised across the research community. Preclinical imaging offers an opportunity for researchers to greatly reduce and refine animal use through longitudinal studies and identifying earlier endpoints to reduce suffering. However its application is often restricted by limitations with the current technologies available.

"This strategic funding allows the NC3Rs to target key areas identified by the research community where the development and application of new imaging techniques could have a profound impact on animal use and science."

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the EPSRC, which co-funded £500k of the funding call, said: "We are delighted to support the NC3Rs. This research builds on our previous collaboration in mathematical modelling in toxicology as well as drawing on and advancing the UK's first class capability in imaging technologies."


Notes for editors:

Contact the NC3RS Media Office:

Laura McGuinness, Communications Officer. Email: laura.mcguinness@nc3rs.org.uk, Tel: 020 7611 2239, Mob: 07795451836.

Background to the 'Imaging Technology Development for the 3Rs' funding call:

In February 2013, the NC3Rs convened an expert group of imagers from academia and industry to explore the limitations of current imaging techniques and identify opportunities for imaging technology development to advance their application in the biosciences and the 3Rs. The group identified eight key challenges for technology development:

  • Animal handling and welfare assessment
  • Tracking cell fate and distribution
  • 3D gene expression profiling
  • Combining technologies
  • Imaging bioengineered tissues
  • Molecular imaging of biodistribution
  • Improving sensitivity and resolution
  • Phenotyping genetically modified mice.

To identify opportunities for addressing these challenges, the NC3Rs hosted a workshop bringing together the preclinical imaging community from across sectors and disciplines (www.nc3rs.org.uk/imaging2013). The workshop, hosted jointly with the Technology Strategy Board-funded Electronics, Sensors and Photonics Knowledge Transfer Network (ESP KTN) in June 2013, provided an open forum for dialogue and information exchange around approaches for technology development to address the challenges listed above; and to prioritise which of the eight challenges to include in the current funding call.

2. Projects funded by the NC3Rs 'Imaging Technology Development for the 3Rs' strategic funding call:

  1. Ultrasound mediated bioluminescence tomography for high sensitivity, high spatial resolution 3D imaging.
    Professor Stephen Morgan, Division of Electrical Systems and Optics, University of Nottingham. £347,833
    Funded by NC3Rs and EPSRC
  2. Labelled IMS TAG proteins for quantitative mass spectrometry imaging.
    Professor Malcolm Clench, Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University. £244,045
    Funded by NC3Rs
  3. Targeted, radiolabelled near-infrared quantum dots for high sensitivity and resolution, dual modality imaging of human tumours in mice.
    Dr Anna Maria Grabowska, School of Medicine, University of Nottingham. £367,046
    Funded by NC3Rs and EPSRC
  4. Implanted imaging laboratories for deep-tissue in vivo imaging.
    Professor Andrew Harvey, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow. £393,237
    Funded by NC3Rs and EPSRC
  5. Non-invasive real-time bioluminescence imaging in living mice to interrogate transcription factor activity and fate of engrafted stem cells.
    Dr Tristan McKay, Centre for Molecular & Cell Research, St George's University of London. £168,853
    Funded by NC3Rs

3. About the NC3Rs:
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) leads the discovery and application of new technologies and approaches to minimise the use of animals and improve animal welfare (the 3Rs). It funds research, supports training and development, and stimulates changes in regulations and practice. Primarily funded by Government, the NC3Rs is also supported by the charitable and private sectors. It works with scientists in universities and industry in the UK and internationally. Further information can be found at: www.nc3rs.org.uk   @nc3rs http://blog.nc3rs.org.uk   

4. About the EPSRC:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. www.epsrc.ac.uk @epsrc 

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