Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Replacement, refinement and reduction in research using animals

The principles of replacement, refinement and reduction (the 3Rs) are now widely accepted internationally as criteria for humane animal use in research and testing. This priority aims to advance further improvements through the development, integration and promotion of 3Rs approaches.

up to £2 million for projects in this priority area through a standard research grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
the standard research grant is an ongoing scheme - projects can last up to five years.
Partners involved:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Replacement, refinement and reduction (the 3Rs) are principles that must be embedded in all the research within our remit involving (or potentially involving) animal use. We encourage grant applicants, including those whose research does not involve animals but could contribute to greater reduction and replacement, to consider further opportunities to advance the 3Rs.

Applications that do not exclusively address improvements in the 3Rs will fit this priority if they aim to generate new improvements in the 3Rs as part of a larger or related study.

Definitions of the 3Rs


These are methods that avoid or replace the use of animals defined as protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 in an area where they would otherwise have been used.

Absolute replacements use techniques which do not involve animals at any point, such as computer modelling, in vitro methodologies (for example tissue engineering) and use of human volunteers.

Relative replacements replace the use of protected animals with other species, for example invertebrates, larval forms of amphibians and fish, until the stage where they become capable of independent feeding.


These are methods that improve scientific procedures and husbandry to minimise actual or potential pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm, or improve animal welfare in situations where the use of animals is unavoidable.

Examples include:

  • reducing stress by developing new approaches such as training animals
  • use of non-invasive techniques
  • enrichments that improve living conditions.


These are methods that minimise animal use and enable researchers to obtain comparable levels of information from fewer animals, or to obtain more information from the same number of animals, thereby reducing future use of animals.

Examples include:

  • improved experimental design and statistical analysis
  • data and resource sharing
  • use of techniques such as imaging.


Outputs of 3Rs research are expected to have wide policy and societal impacts, including addressing both the government’s priorities in reduction and replacement, and public concerns about the use of animals in research.

More specifically there is increasing evidence that aspects of refinement not only benefit animals but can improve the quality of research results.

Outputs could also include development of novel replacement, or non-invasive technological refinements that may lead to reductions in the financial costs of research.


In proposing activities during the project to explore possible translational opportunities, you should demonstrate awareness of policy and societal implications and are advised to consult the National Centre for 3Rs (NC3Rs) website. This is a valuable source of information that should be used to ensure maximum value is derived from the research.

BBSRC is one of the funders of NC3Rs, which provides a UK focus for the promotion, development and implementation of the 3Rs in animal research and testing. NC3Rs has a 3Rs Research Funding Scheme for hypothesis-driven and applied research that will advance knowledge and application of the 3Rs.

Why we're doing it

The principles of replacement, refinement and reduction (the 3Rs) were originally developed by Professor William Russell and Rex Burch, and are now widely accepted internationally as criteria for humane animal use in research and testing.

All animal research funded by BBSRC must integrate the principles of the 3Rs. The aim of this priority is to advance further improvements through the development, integration and promotion of 3Rs approaches.

Researchers whose main focus of research may not be the 3Rs are also strongly encouraged to look for new opportunities within their proposed programmes of research to improve animal welfare, or to drive forward new advances in the application of 3Rs principles.

Opportunities, support and resources available

This is one of BBSRC’s priority areas for our standard research grant. You can apply at any time.

Standard (sometimes known as ‘responsive’) funding opportunities are open to a wide range of research and approaches within BBSRC’s remit.

Find out more about applying for funding, what to include in your application, and animal use in research.

Who to contact

Danielle Sagar


Last updated: 17 August 2023

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