While 2017 is the Chinese year of the rooster you could say that it is the NC3Rs year of the rodent as we are launching a number of exciting initiatives focusing on the welfare of rats and mice.
The reasons for this focus are obvious.
Rodents are by far the most common animals used in terms of number, and by far the widest used in terms of disciplines and scientific procedures.
The work of the NC3Rs has already led to new knowledge and resources that have huge potential for improving rodent welfare as well as scientific outcomes. We have now pulled together some of the impacts and outputs of our work to date into a rodent welfare hub - a one-stop-shop if you like - of the rodent refinement work we have been involved in, or have supported through our grants. It has been a fascinating exercise to do because of the breadth of what we have delivered. There are online resources such as a video tutorial on mouse handling methods to minimise stress and anxiety which could affect the welfare of millions of rodents worldwide, posters on assessing pain in rats and mice using facial expressions, guidelines for refining the use of rodent models in focused areas such as epilepsy research, and the funding of bespoke kit for automated 24/7 home cage monitoring of group housed rats and mice.
Over the next 12 months we will also be launching some new projects on laboratory rodent welfare. These are specifically focused on working with animal technicians. The first will be launched this month with two workshops at the Institute of Animal Technology (IAT) annual Congress on increasing the opportunities for laboratory rats to exercise and perform natural behaviours in a more complex environment than is often provided for them. These workshops will require innovative thinking from technicians but there are already some great examples across the UK of technicians with clever ideas on how enriched environments can be provided even with complex surgical models or within the constraints of standard laboratory caging. For anyone who is interested in participating in the workshops the deadline for registering is 10 March.
We will also be launching a crowdsourcing data project on aggression in mice to try to better understand the triggers and solutions to this problem by collecting and analysing data from a wide range of research establishments with different housing and husbandry practices and from different mouse strains. The project is open to technicians in the UK and participants are eligible for 10 CPD points from the IAT. This is the first time, as far as we are aware, that anyone has attempted to collect data on such a scale for this type of welfare issue. It is a great opportunity for technicians to come together nationally to collaborate with us as well as to develop new skills on data recording and analysing animal behaviour. Ultimately the plan is to publish a paper from the data analysis that provides recommendations on minimising aggression particularly in long-term studies. We are launching this ambitious project towards the end of April so keep an eye out on our website if you want to get involved.
While out of sync with the Chinese calendar this is not a “cock up” (excuse the pun) on our part but a deliberate recognition of the importance that we continue to place on rodent welfare.