Beyond the Three Rs

For a long while after the Three Rs were first proposed by Russell and Burch, anti-vivisectionists rejected the concept, on the grounds that experiments on living vertebrates which cause them pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm, were ethically unacceptable and scientifically unnecessary, so there was no point in reducing, refining or replacing them. In recent decades,
however, some organisations, such as the BUAV and PETA, have moved tentatively into the middle ground, and have made positive contributions toward the Three Rs, without comprising their fundamental beliefs.

The ultimate goal of Russell and Burch themselves was replacement, which they said, “is always a satisfactory answer”, with reduction and refinement merely being steps along the way. That was also the position of the founders of FRAME, the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, although the charity has made many contributions in support
of the other two Rs, since its foundation in 1969.

The latest issue of ATLA contains two important articles about the future of the Three Rs, as well as the latest in an important series of outstanding exposures of the insurmountable limits of laboratory animals as models of humans.

In this issue of PiLAS, Craig Redmond argues the case for replacing the Three Rs with One R (Replacement),1 but goes further in saying that only what Russell and Burch defined as absolute replacement (where “animals are not required at all at any stage”) should be considered acceptable, since relative replacement can still involve suffering, as in the use of invertebrates,
less-sentient vertebrates, or cells and tissues taken from protected animals and used in vitro or ex vivo.

Michael Balls goes further in his ATLA Comment,2 proposing that “the time has come to plan for a future where the Three Rs will have served their purpose, animal experimentation will have been consigned to history, and humane biomedical science in research, testing and education will have become the norm, for the benefit of humans and animals alike”.

Finally, the article by Jarrod Bailey in the latest ATLA issue, on monkey-based research,3 demonstrates that major molecular differences, revealed by comparative
genomics and molecular biology, underlie inter-species phenotypic disparities. The collective effects of these differences are striking, extensive and widespread, and show that the superficial similarity between human and monkey genetic sequences is of little benefit for biomedical research.
Therefore, the extrapolation of biomedical data from monkeys to humans is highly unreliable, and the use of monkeys must be considered of questionable value, particularly given the breadth and potential of alternative methods of enquiry that are currently available to scientists.

1 Redmond, C. (2014). ‘One R’ is the new ‘Three Rs’. ATLA 42, P50–P52.
2 Balls, M. (2014). Animal experimentation and alternatives: Time to say goodbye to the Three Rs and hello to humanity? ATLA 42, 327–333.
3 Bailey, J. (2014). Monkey-based research on human disease: The implications of genetic differences. ATLA 42, 287–317.

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