British Pharmacological Society launches a new curriculum for the use of research animals

The British Pharmacological Society (BPS) and partner organisations have launched a new curriculum for undergraduate and taught Masters education on the use of research animals. The NC3Rs is pleased to be supporting this cross-sector initiative.

Image credit: MRC Harwell Institute

For animal studies to be robust and scientifically valid, the animals must be used appropriately, and researchers must be able to meaningfully interpret and critique published data, discriminating between well-designed and flawed in vivo experiments. Improving this knowledge base within the biomedical workforce improves the quality and reproducibility of in vivo research, which in turn supports biomedical innovation. The new curriculum strongly supports building this broad skillset.

The curriculum is the culmination of a year-long collaboration between academics, industry scientists and animal welfare experts. It has been designed to:

  1. help students understand when research requires the use of animals, and when it doesn’t
  2. provide education in the skills needed to interpret and critique reported data obtained from research animals
  3. share good practice on how to design animal experiments and to integrate animal welfare as part of that process
  4. foster openness about the use of research animals

The curriculum also highlights issues around ethics, animal welfare, regulation and the 3Rs. It does not require all students to have hands-on contact with animals, as observation or video simulations may be enough to convey the intended learning outcomes. For those students who do want practical exposure to research animals, the curriculum advises educators on a range of appropriate techniques to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

The NC3Rs has an extensive library of freely-accessible online resources designed to support implementation of the 3Rs within bioscience research. Many of these resources are relevant for delivering core learning outcomes in the curriculum; see the table below for some highlights. The NC3Rs will be working with the BPS in the future to develop lesson plans and other educational materials.

Curriculum item

NC3Rs resource

Comments

The principle that research animals should only be used where there are no alternatives

3Rs video presentation

Coming soon

The lifetime experience of research animals, including care and husbandry

Housing and Husbandry website hub

Covers common laboratory animal species

The importance of good experimental design (e.g. randomisation, blinding, power calculations, managing variability) and correct analysis

Experimental Design Assistant web pages and web app

Key resource

Appropriate reporting standards for sharing of research

ARRIVE Guidelines

Key resource

How predictive models (in silico) can complement and sometimes replace the use of research animals

Videos featuring the 2017 3Rs prize winner and colleagues

 

The signs of stress and pain and the mechanisms that can cause them

Welfare Assessment web page

 

Welfare Assessment e-learning resource

 

Appropriately handle at least one species of research animal

Mouse Handling website hub

 

Handling and Restraint web page

Key resource for mouse handling

The curriculum for animal research is the first to be supported and endorsed by a significant number of organisations. These include research organisations, national and international learned societies (including the Royal Society of Biology), UK universities, the NC3Rs, and industry (including the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry). Its wide adoption will lay the foundations for a highly skilled and well informed next generation of researchers.

A blog post entitled Using animals in biomedical research: why education holds the key was first published on the Times Higher Education website on 13 June 2018.

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