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3Rs Alternatives: Technologies and Approaches

“3Rs alternatives” refers to the Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement of animals used in research, testing, and education. The 3Rs concept was developed over 50 years ago by two scientists, Drs. William Russell and Rex Burch. It is first described in their published book, Principles of Humane Experimental Technique.  Russell and Burch advocated new scientific approaches that would minimize the pain and distress of research animals via 3Rs methods.
The 3Rs Alternatives
  • Replacement refers to technologies or approaches that directly replace or avoid the use of animals in experiments by incorporating non-animal methods where they would otherwise have been used. Replacement can be broken down into two categories: Full/Absolute and Partial/Relative.
    • Full/Absolute Replacement: Avoids the use of any animals. Examples may include the use of human volunteers, training manikins, tissues and cells, mathematical and computer models, and established cell lines.  
    • Partial/ Relative Replacement: Animals are still used to provide tissue, cells and/or organs but experiments are conducted in vitro (tissue culture, tissue slices, etc.). Partial replacement can also include the use of animals that have been slaughtered for meat or euthanized due to other purposes. 
  • Reduction refers to methods that minimize the number of animals used per experiment. Scientists can reduce the number of animals used in research through experimental design (such as an animal serving as its own control).
  • Refinement refers to methods that reduce pain and distress, suffering, or lasting harm that research animals may experience; and which improves their welfare. Refinement applies to all aspects of animal use, from their housing and husbandry to the scientific procedures performed on them. Click on selected refined procedures for more information on how to incorporate refinement into your research.

A selection of presentations from a symposium that was co-hosted by the USDA Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC), NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), the Johns Hopkins Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT).

Learn more about 3Rs Alternatives

The NC3Rs, the North American 3Rs Collaborative, and Lab Animal.

3 Minute 3Rs is your monthly recap of efforts to replace, reduce, and refine the use of animals in research, brought to you by the NC3Rs, the North American 3Rs Collaborative, and Lab Animal.

Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing.

In this book, the authors, Russell and Burch propose a new applied science that would improve the treatment of laboratory animals while advancing the quality of science in studies that use animals.

US Congress. Office of Technology Assessment.

This 1986 report analyzes the scientific, regulatory, economic, legal, and ethical considerations involved in alternative technologies in biomedical and behavioral research, toxicity testing, and education.

DHHS. NIH. Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW).

The Policy of the Public Health Service (PHS) requires institutions to establish and maintain proper measures to ensure the appropriate care and use of all animals involved in research, research training, and biological testing activities (hereinafter referred to as "activities") conducted or supported by the PHS.