Taking a Closer Look at "Refinement"


In this final look at the 3 R’s of preclinical research, we move now to Russel and Burch’s third R – Refinement. The focus here is on minimizing any suffering or distress to the laboratory animals that are used in a study.

When considering Refinement, there are a number of avenues a researcher may consider:

  • Use of less invasive procedures
    • This may be a modification to a surgical technique which results in a smaller incision, or a less invasive approach to the surgical site.
    • Using image guided injections to place tumor cells orthotopically, for example, rather than performing an abdominal surgery.
    • Use of less invasive techniques to measure a specific biological parameter; for example, using blood flow velocity, measured non-invasively, instead of an invasive blood pressure catheter.
  • Providing proper care and husbandry for the laboratory animals
    • Environmental enrichment as well as co-housing should be used where possible.
    • Providing appropriate supports which may be required throughout the study, this may include supplementary heat during surgical procedures to ensure stability and quick recovery.
  • Use of anesthesia and analgesia to help minimize the pain and distress of the experimental procedures.
    • Proper physiological monitoring should be performed throughout the time of anesthesia, along with continued monitoring of the animal during recovery and the study period to assess if additional analgesic intervention is warranted.

As we complete our look into the 3Rs of preclinical research we see that by considering Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement in every study design scientists help to ensure that their research is conducted in a humane and ethical manner, but that it also leads to more reliable and meaningful scientific results. When study animals experience unnecessary stress or suffering, this can affect their physiology and behavior, which can lead to unreliable results and a decrease in the overall quality of the outcomes. Additionally, the use of alternatives and reduction in the number of animals used can also help reduce the overall cost and time required for a study, making research more efficient and effective.

The principles of the 3Rs are not only important for ethical reasons, but they also play a crucial role in the advancement of scientific knowledge. By reducing the number of animals used and minimizing their suffering, we can ensure that the results obtained from animal research are accurate and reliable and can be used to improve human health and well-being.

In conclusion, the principles of Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement are essential in preclinical research, providing a framework for the ethical and responsible use of laboratory animals in scientific studies.