Animal Refinement Initiative

Project description

Upon dissolution of the 3Rs Foundation, the 3RCC received about CHF47,000 to be used to promote research areas related to “refinement”. With the money, the 3RCC plans to fund a centrally coordinated, but multi-centred effort to encourage implementation of established and easy to use refinement techniques at selected animal facilities in Switzerland and to encourage knowledge-transfer to other facilities. 

Improving the quality of the skills and resources in animal facilities benefits nearly all animals in experimental procedures in Switzerland, including those animals not formally counted (i.e. implicated in the breeding schemes). The long term goal of this project is to encourage the implementation of state-of-the-art 3R-techniques in animal facilities across Switzerland. 


The long term goal of this project is to encourage the implementation of state-of-the-art 3R-techniques in animal facilities across Switzerland. The initial steps taken to achieve this aim will be to implement a selection of already-established refinement techniques in a small group of animal facilities, in a closely monitored, specifically designed, and financially, intellectually supported manner. This aim is broken into two parts: 

1a. Determine the most effective, and robust implementation procedures for a selection of already-established improvements in the area of refinement at a single center 

1b. Encourage knowledge-transfer to other facilities and understand what the different implementation hurdles are for different kinds of facilities, and work to overcome these road-blocks 

As a secondary aim, we will quantify the improvement to animal welfare across the different interventions. The comparison will be both within the centre the intervention is being implemented as well as between the centres. 


Example Method 1: Tunnel/cup handling 

Traditionally, when individual mice need to be handled (e.g. for health checks, experimental procedure, etc.), they are picked up by the tail. However, this approach has been shown to lead to excessive stress, and aversion, which in turn leads to increase future stress. This not only brings about a negative impact on the welfare of the animal but has also been shown to lead to poor scientific outcomes compared to alternative handling procedures. One alternative in particular, tunnel handling, uses a transparent, cylindrical tunnel in which mice enter voluntary. The training is relatively straightforward, and does not increase the time taken for the intervention. The consensus among experts is that the investment in initial training time is rewarded by improved behavioural and physiological outcomes in the animals; and reduced day-to-day stress to the caretakers. However, this initial training time is still an obstacle to overcome through motivation and commitment, and there may be other hurdles in the implementation that still need to be uncovered and addressed, especially in the setting of the animal facility.  

Example Method 2: Environment and nutritional enrichment 

Some form of both environmental and nutritional enrichment is already standard in animal facilities. However, as recently mentioned in an article by the NC3Rs, “laboratory animal species show preferences for different resources (e.g. certain nesting and foraging materials) and these can differ depending on sex, strain, age, reproductive state and group size. It is therefore important to evaluate whether the animals are using and benefiting from the enrichment provided and what their preferences are.” Moreover, new potential enrichments are constantly being released, but with scarce additional resources available at animal facilities it can be challenging to take the necessary time to explore these new options, and formally assess whether these provide a significant improvement to animal welfare.