5 years with the Swedish 3Rs Center
It is now five years since the 3Rs Center was officially inaugurated. What has happened during these first years and what has the Center meant for the 3Rs work in Sweden?
Two members from the Center's steering group, the National Committee, reflect on the journey so far.
Karin Gabrielson Morton works as a senior policy advisor at the Swedish Fund for Research Without Animal Experiments. She has devoted her entire professional life to promoting research that can replace animal testing. For more than 50 years, the foundation has funded research and researchers who develop new methods to replace animal experiments.
Anders Forslid is associate professor and chief veterinarian at Lund University and has long worked with animal welfare and the 3Rs. He has also worked in several government investigations in the area and is member of the national license holder council, which consists of license holders for research animals at Swedish universities.
Both Karin and Anders have been members of the National Committee since it was formed in 2013. Anders is currently vice-chairperson of the committee and Karin is second vice-chairperson. They are also both members of the Central Ethics Committee on Animal Experiments.
They reflect on the Center's first five years, but also peek into the future.
From inertia to structure and cohesion
Karin and Anders agree that the Committee’s work has not always been easy. It has taken a while to develop a good work environment based on trust, cooperation, common ground and expectations between the 3Rs Center and the National Committee. A decisive moment in 2018 was when a fixed structure for operations and management was established.
— Then we got frameworks and realistic conditions for our work and we started to move in the same direction. Together with the Operations manager of the Center, we were able to proceed the dialogue and a way forward, says Karin.
It required not only order and structure, it also required courage and perseverance. It did not happen overnight, but gradually the Operations manager together with an increasing number of Administrative officers, were able to sort out all ideas and expectations, so that they could be realized.
Anders emphasizes today’s cohesion:
— Today, the Committee and the Center have a close collaboration, with a mutual respect in our work. The Committee members do not have to be involved in the details the same way we did in the beginning; we trust each other and the Center, that we all work for the same goal.
One of the most important results so far is, according to Karin and Anders, that the Center is now an established entity with an impact both nationally and internationally. The goal of being the natural contact for all types of 3Rs issues in Sweden is getting closer.
— We are well on our way to achieve the cooperation and dialogue that we want to have with different target groups, says Anders. We have made great progress in our contacts with government agencies and we have a close dialogue with an increasing number of animal welfare bodies. To establish and keep good relations is a one of the signature objectives for the Center.
Other important target groups for the Center are researchers from both academia and business, but also those who fund research.
— We also have a dialogue with funding bodies to build relationships to increase the opportunities for funding and requirements for 3Rs in various calls, says Karin.
In the same way, we work for a good dialogue and collaborations with individual researchers and research groups; both those using animal models and those using alternative methods. It requires time and strategic work to reach as many of them as possible.
Anders gives an example of what can happen:
— I have to tell you about this year's meeting for all animal welfare bodies, which was held here in Lund. The response from my colleagues at the university came immediately. Our 3Rs coordinator was very inspired and several ideas came up on our local agenda. The contact between the 3Rs Center and the animal welfare bodies is central and we must have a clear and structured plan for how it should be operated.
— We have contributed to a better climate for those who want to discuss or change things at their workplace, but feel alone. We have also made it easier for people or organisations that have good examples to share, says Karin.
People that come in contact with the Center have often become our ambassadors, not only for 3Rs in general, but for the work of the Committee and the Center. They are important marketers of our activities.
A 3Rs quality label
When I ask Karin and Anders to name a few initiatives that they are particularly proud of, our scheduled time is not enough. They find it difficult to choose, but are clear that our target groups should see deliveries from the 3Rs Center as a quality label, which in itself is a prerequisite for gaining trust with our users.
— We are proud of everything we have done in recent years, everything from published recommendations to films and a useful website. The requested and much appreciated workshops on stress-reduced handling are another milestone for our deliveries. And the material for upper secondary schools, of course!
They address the pandemic, which has made the work difficult for several years, but which has also forced a rethinking of how to work and how digital tools could be put to better use. Today, we strategically choose when to hold physical activities. Karin mentions in particular a practical workshop on advanced techniques for cell cultures that was held in a lab at the Biology Centre at Lund University.
— It's also fascinating to see the impact the Center has had internationally. We value collaboration with colleagues from other countries and centres, so that we can take advantage of each other's work. It is with pride that we can look back at how the 3Rs Center's trust in Europe and the rest of the world has grown. The fact that we today can get more than 300 registered for a webinar is almost unreal, and that this has happened in just a few years.
Keep going forward!
What about the next five years? What will happen then? Karin and Anders are convinced that we have set out on the right path – and that the important work is to continue on that path. To continue the good dialogue, the inclusive way of working and to reach out to as many people as possible.
For Anders, the contact with the animal welfare bodies is the most important. He emphasizes the importance of being responsive to their needs. Karin quotes a colleague at the EU level who believes that the animal welfare bodies should function as the heart of the 3Rs work and that both the National Committee and the 3Rs Center have an important role to support, help with coordination and disseminate information.
We will refine our communication channels, not only to the animal welfare bodies but to all our target groups, so that we reach as far as possible.
— We must finish our projects in time. We must produce results with quality. It goes back to this quality label I talked about before. The 3Rs Center should stand for quality. One must be able to trust that our outcome is current and relevant, says Anders.
The user’s perspective is also important. Our users must experience that they benefit from what we offer. Our deliveries must be useful, clear and relevant. To make sure that we do the right things, we must involve the target group in the concrete work.
— We can definitely say that the Center has made a difference, says Karin. We have contributed to both knowledge increase and attitude change, which are also dependent on each other.
— 3R is a matter of attitude, says Anders. It should always be present in everything one does. It's a culture, not isolated efforts. Your attitude is decisive for whether you can say that you work according to the 3Rs or not. And this also applies to organizations and workplaces.
How will you celebrate?
— We publish a special edition of our 3Rs focus letter to highlight our first five years, says Karin. Then there will be more celebration in the spring, but we will come back to that. We do have plans, but we are not quite done with the details yet.
Anders is also looking forward to the international conference Scand-LAS, which will take place in Sweden and Uppsala in 2023. It will be an excellent opportunity for the National Committee to showcase what the 3Rs Center does and can contribute to.