Driving the 3Rs into the centre of mainstream science

Professor Ian Kimber OBE on the growing appreciation for 3Rs to address important scientific questions

In a reflection on his past five years as Chairman of the NC3Rs Board, Professor Ian Kimber OBE points out that an appreciation for alternatives is growing – not just as one-for-one replacements for animals, but to help address important scientific questions and provide more relevant information.

When, in my capacity as Chairman of the Board of NC3Rs, I have had an opportunity to say a few words about the Centre, or introduce a workshop for instance, I have frequently found myself using some familiar words. “It is an honour and a privilege to represent the NC3Rs”. Hackneyed words maybe, and I suspect they are not uncommonly used with a lack of sincerity. For me, however, it truly was an honour, and it truly was a great privilege, to be associated with the Centre and to serve as Chairman for five years. So why is that? Three reasons:

1) Pioneering better science

This is what the NC3Rs does, and does so well. Gone are the days when an interest in animal welfare in biomedical research was the province only of special interest groups. What the NC3Rs has done in the last decade is to endow the 3Rs with a scientific legitimacy and relevance that is the envy of other countries.

The Centre is positioned at the heart of the scientific landscape, and as such is perfectly placed to ensure really effective integration with the research community. We have seen remarkable achievements made as the result of aligning the best of science and technology with the aspiration to promote the 3Rs. This is achieved in part through the NC3Rs Project and Pilot Grant Schemes, but also through a score of other important and innovative programmes, including CRACK IT. Supported by these initiatives we are now seeing world class researchers bringing the 3Rs to life.

The fact is that there is a growing appreciation that ‘alternatives’ are not simply the one-for-one replacement of animal test methods or animal models with in vitro or in silico approaches, but rather it is about finding new strategies to address important biomedical research issues that do not require the use of animals and which provide a better basis for more productive and relevant research.

There are many drivers for an increased investment in the 3Rs, and these include regulatory and legislative change, societal expectations and the costs associated with the use of experimental animals. However, the most important driver is opportunity. That is the chance to harness the rapid advances in biomedical science and related disciplines to develop novel approaches that improve the quality of research while also reducing, refining or replacing the need for experimental animals. This is what the NC3Rs has done and will continue to do. Who wouldn’t want to play some small part in achieving that?

2) Training and career development

During the last five years the NC3Rs has made two important investments in training and career development. These are the PhD Studentship Scheme (initiated in 2009) and the David Sainsbury Fellowship Programme (2011). Both of these are designed to promote and support the development of early-career scientists in biomedical research and embed among our future scientific leaders an appreciation of how the 3Rs principles can improve the relevance and quality of research. These initiatives will ensure that the impact of the NC3Rs is secured within future generations of researchers. Having contributed to a long-term legacy such as this is very satisfying.

3) People

At the heart of the NC3Rs are people; the staff led so ably by the Chief Executive, Dr Vicky Robinson. The enthusiasm and dedication displayed by NC3Rs staff is remarkable, as is their professionalism and capacity for sheer hard work. All of this translates into tremendous productivity by a Centre populated with people who have a real passion for what they trying to achieve. And at their head is Vicky who is the inspiration for much of what happens and who guides the work of the Centre with such a sure hand. It has been a great pleasure, and a real inspiration, working with such a team. Of course, the work of the Centre is also supported by the Board, and by so many members of the scientific community who give of their time so generously to sit on grant, student, fellowship and CRACK IT panels, to review applications and to participate at workshops. My grateful thanks go to all of those who have contributed in these ways.

Finally, my best wishes to Professor Stephen Holgate who this month succeeds me as Chair of the NC3Rs Board. I have known Stephen for many years, and we have worked together frequently in the past. I have the very greatest respect for him, and I am confident that the NC3Rs will continue to flourish with his guidance and support. Good luck Stephen; it will not always be easy, but I promise it will always be rewarding.

As for me, I have this year assumed the position of Chair of the NC3Rs Project and Pilot Grant Panel, and so in that capacity will remain as a member of the Board. I hope that I can therefore continue to help Vicky and to support Stephen as they lead the further development of the Centre during the next three years.

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