Why is animal research necessary?
Research using animals is essential for understanding the biology that underpins health and disease in both humans and other animals. Without such research, we would have few of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine.
Animals are used to investigate fundamental biology, to model disease and to test potential new treatments before they are tested in humans. Animal research is only undertaken where there is no alternative.
What types of animal do you use at Cambridge?
The majority of the animals we use are mice. Where lower order animals are not suitable, we use a small number of other animals, such as rats and Xenopus frogs, as well as non-human primates, namely marmosets and macaques.
What types of animal research do you carry out?
Some of the work carried out is fundamental research, aimed at understanding how humans and animals develop and how our nervous systems and brains work, for example. This knowledge is essential for underpinning our understanding of health and disease for both medical and veterinary purposes.
Other work is aimed at tackling specific diseases, for example in helping us understand how Parkinson’s disease affects the brain and motor system and how it might be tackled, or in developing new treatments for autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
How many animals do you use?
In 2014, the following numbers of procedures based on Home Office Returns were carried out on animals for research at the University of Cambridge (2013 figures are in brackets):
Mouse 139,015 (154,537)
Rat 5,558 (4,328)
Primate 42 (36)
Sheep 174 (155)
Gerbil 7 (1)
Naked mole rat 6 (N/A)
Guinea-pig 252 (31)
Chicken 564 (64)
Other birds 22 (N/A)
Xenopus 1,002 (1,001)
Zebra fish 13,815 (9,907)
Other fish 100 (50)
For further information and examples of procedures, see What is a 'Procedure'?
Why does the number of animals used increase year upon year?
Whilst every attempt is made to minimise the number of animals used in research, there has been an overall increase over the last decade due to the use of genetically-modified (GM) mice. If these breeding figures were to be excluded, the total number of procedures carried out year upon year would decrease slightly.
How do you ensure high standards of animal welfare?
We believe that good science and good animal welfare go hand in hand. The UK has the most rigorous animal welfare regulations in the world, and we consider adherence to these regulations as a minimum and will continue to aim for the highest possible standards of animal care.
We strongly agree with, and rigidly follow, the guiding principles emphasised by the Home Office on the need to refine protocols, keep the numbers of animals used to a minimum and replace the use of animals with other methods where possible. To this end, we encourage all staff involved in animal research and husbandry to continuously develop and improve on existing welfare standards, offering incentives to those that contribute and awarding those that are recognised by the laboratory animal welfare organisations.
Are you looking for alternatives to animal use?
We are committed to refining, reducing and replacing the use of animals in research - known as the 3Rs. Animals are only used where no alternatives are viable. Cambridge scientists are also leading research looking at finding viable alternatives. For example, in 2014, Dr Meritxell Huch from the Gurdon Institute won the UK’s international prize for the scientific and technological advance with the most potential to achieve the 3Rs for work to grow “mini-livers” from adult mouse stem cells.
Do you test cosmetics and household products on animals?
No. It is not permitted anywhere within the UK or the European Union to test cosmetics or household products, other than medicines, on animals.