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Refinement can be defined as any measure that will reduce suffering or improve welfare, whether this is applied to scientific procedures, housing, transport, husbandry procedures (including marking for identification and cage cleaning), the animals' environment (e.g. temperature and light levels), welfare assessment, humane endpoints or humane killing techniques.

This is clearly critical to tackling severe suffering, but it's easy to become complacent about implementing refinement. Some key points to remember are: refinement is not a 'one-off' event at the project planning stage, and it is not just a matter of following in-house refinement protocols. There may be new information and approaches outside your establishment, and you may need to search for these. Open minds are essential - if there are any questions about the effects on animal welfare or the science, the course of action should be to evaluate these and carefully consider the results. Lastly, communicating about refinement should be a two-way street, and it is especially important for scientists to share good practice with their peers.

Approaches to refinement

  • Search the literature for guidance on refining the specific procedure in question. An internet search on [animal model], [species] and [welfare] or [refinement] can be a useful starting point as well as dedicated discussion fora such as COMPMED, LAREF and VOLE (these all require membership). The person responsible for ensuring that staff have access to species-relevant information within each establishment should be able to provide additional information (this is the Named Information Officer in the UK). Expert working group reports are available for some severe procedures; for example, RSPCA-convened expert working groups have produced reports on refining procedures involving seizures, convulsions and epilepsy; experimental allergic encephalomyelitis; sepsis; and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Consult researchers, animal technologists and veterinarians with experience in the field, and relevant societies, organisations and user groups
  • Raise the issue within your establishment - ask the AWERB, AWB or ACUC for a discussion or to provide advice, consult the veterinarian or the person(s) responsible for disseminating information about the 3Rs
  • Ask the regulator for advice. For example, the UK Home Office Inspectors within the Animals in Science Regulation Unit often provide advice on refinement and encourage establishments to share good practice
  • Go to meetings that address refinement, for example those convened by the RSPCA, IAT, LASA, LAVA and the NC3Rs (or equivalent bodies in your country). Get refinement added to the agenda at meetings held by your own scientific or professional bodies, for example as a presentation, symposium or poster
  • Include information on refinement in posters, presentations and publications. This is relevant to the science and editors or peer reviewers should not insist that you remove it. If you have any issues, use the ARRIVE guidelines to help make your case (especially if the journal has endorsed these)

Sources of information on refinement: