Black mouse in gloved hand with Leader in Openness badge

The University of Cambridge has once again been recognised as a Leader in Openness for its work to promote openness and transparency around research involving the use of animals.

We believe it’s important to show leadership in this area and we hope our efforts make a difference and show others within the sector what can be achieved

Anne Ferguson-Smith

This year sees the eighth anniversary of the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research, which commits signatories to making available information about their animal research through their websites, communications and public engagement activities.

The University of Cambridge has been a signatory since it launched in 2014. It publishes detailed information on its animal research pages, include information on the different types of animal used in research at Cambridge and the number of procedures carried out each year. Its animal welfare team takes part each year in the Cambridge Festival, giving members of the public the opportunity to discuss the use of animals in research and animal welfare.

Cambridge has received three Openness Awards, most recently for its revised animal research pages (which included and a feature on the use of animals to study ways to restore movement to paralysed limbs). In previous years, it has won 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.

Cambridge was recognised as one of 13 inaugural Leaders in Openness in 2019. Each institution is required to apply again every three years, and Cambridge’s application has once again been successful.

Bella Williams, Head of Engagement at Understanding Animal Research, said: ““Each year, the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK recognises institutions which consistently meet best-practice standards for openness and transparency in communicating about their animal research. These organisations have shown excellence in their use of internal communications, public-facing websites and social media, media communications and public engagement practices, setting a high standard for all research organisations that use animals, and leading by example.

“This year 12 research organisations have been recognised as outstanding in all these areas… [and] will hold the ‘Leaders in Openness’ title for three years in recognition of the energy, consideration and courage that they have shown in providing accessibility and public information around an important but often misunderstood subject.” 

Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of Cambridge, said: “Animal research continues to be an important part of biomedical science, but as research institutions it is vital that we do not take public support for granted, and instead explain clearly why and how we work with animals and the steps we take to ensure good animal welfare.

“Since first signing the Concordat in 2014, Cambridge University has strived to be as open about our animal research as possible, sharing a wealth of information and case studies, and continuing to engage the public. We believe it’s important to show leadership in this area and we hope our efforts make a difference and show others within the sector what can be achieved.”

Alongside the University of Cambridge, Agenda Life Sciences, The Babraham Institute, The Francis Crick Institute, Imperial College London, The Institute of Cancer Research, Newcastle University, The Pirbright Institute, Royal Veterinary College, University of Bath, University of Leicester, and University of Manchester have all been recognised this year.

Animal research at Cambridge

In 2020, when the most recent figures were published, Cambridge researchers carried out just under 178,000 procedures, of which almost 98% involved mice and zebrafish. The University publishes all of its animal statistics on its website.

Animal research plays an important role in our understanding of health and disease and in the development of modern medicines and surgical techniques. 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. Some of the work carried out is fundamental research, aimed at understanding how humans and animals develop and how our immune 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.

Animal research is only undertaken where there is no alternative. Our researchers always use the most appropriate species: in the vast majority of cases, this involves using mice, rats and zebrafish. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to use species that are closer to humans in size or development.

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