University biologists win award to reduce need to experiment on fish

University biologists win award to reduce need to experiment on fish

A leading Aberdeen fish biologist and his team are among researchers to receive an award from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs).

The grant to Professor Christopher Secombes of almost £157,000 is among 13 research grants announced today (Monday July 26) as part of the annual research funding scheme that aims to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in experiments (the 3Rs).

The scheme funds key UK projects that will advance knowledge and application of the 3Rs and improve laboratory animal welfare.

This year, over £4 million will be invested in projects on topics including the cause of multiple sclerosis, influenza research, understanding drug addiction, cancer cell biology and epilepsy.

Minister for State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, said: "The coalition government supports the efforts of the NC3Rs to minimise animal use in scientific research. These awards help to keep the UK at the forefront of advances in the 3Rs as we seek breakthroughs in treating serious illnesses."

The award to Professor Secombes – who is Head of the University’s School of Biological Sciences – and his collaborators Dr Yolanda Corripio-Miyar and Dr Jun Zou, is to develop in vitro laboratory tests to determine the efficacy of vaccines in fish.

Fish farming is a major industry in the UK, and Scotland currently produces over 130,000 tonnes of Atlantic salmon - the third largest producer of farmed salmon globally.

Sixteen thousand tonnes of rainbow trout are also produced each year in the UK. Fish health is one of the key factors affecting the sustainability of this industry, and vaccination is important to prevent a number of fish diseases.

New vaccines require thorough testing before they can be used, which currently involves vaccinating and then infecting test fish with the relevant pathogens to assess how well the vaccine works. An in vitro efficacy test in the laboratory would greatly reduce the numbers of fish suffering from lethal pathogenic infection during the early phases of vaccine development.

Welcoming news of the award, Professor Secombes said: ““Over the last few years our work at the Scottish Fish Immunology Research Centre has been focused on the discovery of new and novel immune genes. Whilst we have a long way to go to fully understand the mechanism that control disease resistance in fish, nevertheless we are now in a position to begin to develop ways to reduce the need for live fish tests, which is one of our long term goals. This award will allow us to undertake one such approach as a proof of principle, and we are very pleased to have been given this opportunity.”

NC3Rs Chief executive, Dr Vicky Robinson said: "I am impressed by the diverse projects that we have selected for funding, which demonstrate the commitment to the 3Rs by some of the UK's leading scientific teams.

"In recent years the number of animals used for experiments has increased and now is an especially important time to be looking at ways to bring the numbers down. We must continue to involve the UK's brightest minds in this challenge and the work of the NC3Rs will help achieve this."

The NC3Rs is the largest funder of 3Rs research in the UK, supporting research across a range of disciplines. To date it has awarded grants totalling nearly £17 million.