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U.K. pledges to reduce use of animals for bioscience research

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The U.K. plans to cut back on animal testing in bioscience research and instead use new technology like tissue engineering, stem cells, noninvasive imaging and mathematical modeling to pursue drug discovery and development.

"The scientific imperative for developing new approaches to research and development is very strong. Although the use of animals forms a major part of much scientific and medical research, success seen in animal studies has not always translated in the clinic. Many potential drugs fail due to lack of efficacy in humans or concerns about their safety. Methods are needed to screen these failures out as early as possible and to select, with further research and development, those approaches most likely to succeed," says a policy paper released Feb. 7 by the U.K.'s Department of Health.

Already, the U.K. has invested over £35 million to support phasing out animal testing with its National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, which was established in 2005. In addition, the U.K.'s Technology Strategy Board will invest up to £4 million in early feasibility studies to help accelerate the development of new nonanimal technologies.

Still, the policy paper found that in 2012, over 4 million procedures were conducted on animals in the U.K.--which is "significantly lower than the volumes in the 1970s and early 1980s, but higher than the figures in the 1990s and 2000s." According to the policy paper, nonbreeding animal procedures on genetically altered animals have declined from 2.4 million in 1995 to 2.13 million in 2012. The main fields of research using animals in 2012 were immunology and cancer research.

"Animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives. But the results we get from research can transform lives and pave the way for new and groundbreaking medical advances. By encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will not only improve standards of animal welfare but also reduce costs to industry," Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said in a Department of Health press release.

The policy paper notes challenges to reducing animal testing, including regulatory roadblocks through international agencies that may require animal testing as part of the drug approval process as well as peer-reviewed journals' biases toward "traditional" animal models for publication of new research.

- see the press release
- read the policy paper (PDF)

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