The University of Cambridge has been presented with a Leader in Openness Award in recognition of its work to promote openness and transparency around its research involving the use of animals.

I am proud that Cambridge has been recognised as a Leader in Openness. I believe our institution has a moral obligation to be open about the important research that takes place in its laboratories

Chris Abell

In 2014, the University signed the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research, committing to making available detailed information about its animal research through its website, communications and public engagement activities.

Since then, it has received two Openness Awards for its films looking at how mice are helping in the fight against cancer and how animals, including marmosets, help us understand brain disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder. These films complement its animal research pages, which include details on the different types of animal used in research at Cambridge and the number of procedures carried out each year.

One of the University’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body Committees takes part each year in the Cambridge Science Festival. This year, it ran a stand at the family weekend at the city’s Guildhall, providing the opportunity for members of the public to discuss the use of animals in research and animal welfare and showcasing 25 years of the ‘3Rs’ of animal research - Replacement, Reduction, Refinement.

Other activities include the ‘Challenge’ technical programme for students from the age of 13 at the Cambridge Academy for Science and Technology. There, the University and the Academy arrange for employers, research organisations and local universities to showcase and discuss their work, providing open engagement and information to students.

Cambridge is one of 13 Leaders recognised out of 121 signatories to the Concordat.

Commenting on the award, Professor Chris Abell, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Cambridge, said: “I am proud that Cambridge has been recognised as a Leader in Openness. I believe our institution has a moral obligation to be open about the important research that takes place in its laboratories.

“Our University has been at the forefront of important discoveries in biology and in human and veterinary medicine, and much of this work would not have been possible without the use of animals.  However, we are not complacent in our use of animals in research and continuously apply the principles of replacement, reduction and refinement in all of this work.”

Dr Martin Vinnell, the University’s Establishment Licence Holder, who is responsible for overseeing its animal research, added: “This award recognises the willingness of all those involved in research here using animals to engage with the public. Our researchers have openly talked about their work using animals to the media and at the Cambridge Science Festival, while the commitment to openness and transparency means that we aim to proactively put as much information as possible on our webpages rather than only responding to requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The use of animals in research should not be viewed as a right – and we must therefore ensure the public is well informed of both what we do, and why we do it, whether or not they support this type of research.”

In 2017, researchers at Cambridge carried out just under 160,000 procedures, the vast majority involving mice and zebrafish. The University publishes all of its animal statistics on its website. Last year, the University also began publishing information on the severity of its procedures.

Research involving animals plays an important part in helping researchers understand human biology, and in particular how diseases occur and in the development of new treatments. Without the use of animals, we would not have many of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine.

Some of the important and pioneering work for which Cambridge is best known and which has led to major improvements in people’s lives was only possible using animals, from the development of IVF techniques through to human monoclonal antibodies.

The University places good welfare at the centre of all its animal research and aims to meet the highest standards: good animal welfare and good science go hand-in-hand. Although animals will play a role in biomedical research for the foreseeable future, researchers at the University strive to use only the number of animals necessary to obtain sound scientific data. Our researchers are actively looking at techniques to refine their experiments and help reduce – and ultimately replace – their use.

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