The RSPCA and funders of medical research are calling on scientists to share information and animals to help reduce the number of genetically-altered mice used in experiments.

The RSPCA, MRC, Cancer Research UK, BBSRC and NC3Rs are launching new guidance in the form of a booklet “Sharing and archiving of genetically altered mice: Opportunities for reduction and refinement”, aimed at scientists working with animals.

The booklet has been produced by an RSPCA working group after discussions on how to reduce and refine the use of genetically-altered (GA) mice.

The number of GA mice used in scientific procedures has been rising significantly and so the sharing and archiving of such animals is becoming an increasingly important means of both reducing and refining animal use to minimise suffering.

The most recent Home Office figures show more scientific procedures were carried out on animals in 2007 than any year since 1991. This is largely due to the increasing use of GA animals, which were used in 1.46 million regulated procedures in 2007 (46 per cent of all procedures).

The new booklet, which contains information on what to archive and when, how to archive and how to share, along with a list of useful resources, is supported by the Government.

Home Office Minister Meg Hillier said: “The Government strongly supports initiatives that lead to greater implementation of the 3Rs [replacement, reduction and refinement]. I therefore welcome this report and the constructive liaison between the major funding bodies and the RSPCA in working towards this goal.

“The number of genetically-altered mice used in scientific procedures has risen consistently over recent years and this trend appears to be continuing. Whilst the use of these mice has enabled significant advances in science, this increasing use raises practical, scientific and ethical issues.

“As more novel genetically-altered mouse lines are produced, and their use becomes more widespread, the sharing and archiving of information and material related to these animals is becoming an increasingly important means of both reducing animal use and of refining procedures to improve animal welfare.”

The RSPCA and the funders of medical research involved in this project firmly believe that archiving should be part of every research establishment’s GA colony management programme, not only to improve reduction and refinement practices locally, but also to make it easier to share GA mice.

Nikki Osborne, an RSPCA senior scientific officer, said: “This booklet sets out simple measures by which every researcher who creates or uses genetically-altered mice can reduce and refine their animal use.

“Genetic manipulation has the potential to cause suffering not only to the GM animals themselves, but also to the many animals used to produce them. The RSPCA considers that the application of GM technology has potentially serious consequences for animal welfare, and this very important step towards reducing the number of genetically-altered mice used in research.”

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