Top ten universities conduct a third of all UK animal research

The ten UK universities who do the most world-leading biomedical research* have announced their animal research statistics, revealing that they collectively conducted a third of all UK animal research in 2015.**

The top ten institutions conduct more than two thirds of all UK university animal research between them, completing a combined total of 1.37 million procedures. Over 99% of these procedures were carried out on rodents or fish, and in line with national data they were roughly evenly split between experiments and the breeding of genetically modified animals. Main building

 The ten universities are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2015. Each institution’s name links to a breakdown of their individual animal research statistics.

University of Oxford:              226,214

University of Edinburgh:         212,695

UCL:                                        202,554

University of Cambridge:        181,080

King’s College London:           175,296

University of Manchester:      145,457

Imperial College London:        101,179

University of Glasgow:           49,082

University of Birmingham:      47,657

University of Nottingham:       31,689


The universities employ more than 90,000 staff between them***, and as you would expect the larger institutions tend to conduct the most animal research. All universities are committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible, minimising the number of animals used per experiment and minimising suffering to improve animal welfare. However, as universities expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.

“The fact that we perform a significant proportion of the UK’s leading biomedical research is something to be proud of,” says Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost. “It’s no surprise that the universities who conduct the most world-leading research also use the most animals; despite advances in non-animal techniques, animals offer answers to many research questions that alternative methods cannot yet provide.

“With recent advances in gene editing techniques, genetically modified animals offer particularly promising avenues of research. This year, UCL researchers discovered a genetic defect in children with a rare and debilitating form of childhood Parkinsonism leading to difficulties walking and talking. By replicating the genetic defect in fish, the team were able to better understand the disease and test different treatments. When a drug that corrected the defect in the fish was given to a child with the condition, she regained the ability to walk.”

All ten universities are signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, a commitment to be more open about the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK. 107 organisations have signed the concordat including UK universities, charities, research funders and commercial research organisations.

The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, said: “Five British universities are ranked in the world’s top ten for medical science. At Oxford, our scientists are making significant advances in understanding cancer, heart disease, psychiatric illness and a host of other health problems. Research involving animals remains critical to these medical advances. We are committed to ensuring that the animals we use are treated humanely and are equally committed to transparency in all our practices. It is very much in our interest to ensure that everyone understands the nature of our medical research and the many benefits it brings.”

Animal research has played a key role in the development of virtually every medicine that we take for granted today. However, despite decades of dedicated research, many widespread and debilitating conditions are still untreatable. Medical research is a slow process with no easy answers, but animal research helps to take us incrementally closer to treatments for cancer, dementia, stroke and countless other conditions.

While many animal studies do not lead directly to treatments for diseases, ‘basic science’ research helps scientists to understand different processes in the body and how they can go wrong, underpinning future efforts to diagnose and treat various conditions. Additionally, many studies will show that a line of research is not worth pursuing. Although this can be disappointing, such research is incredibly valuable as scientists need to know which methods do not work and why so that they can develop new ones. Animal studies can also help to answer a wide range of research questions that are not directly related to diseases, such as exploring how genes determine traits or how brain functions develop.

*‘Biomedical research’ here refers to ‘Clinical medicine’, ‘Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience’ and ‘Biological sciences’ as defined by the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is an independent assessment of research quality used by UK funding councils to determine the amount of public research funding allocated to each university. The 'research power' measure combines quality and volume of research to indicate which institutions are performing the largest amount of world-leading research. Data showing research power by subject for each institution can be downloaded from Times Higher Education.

**The UK Home Office recorded 4.14 million completed procedures in 2015, 1.37 million of which were carried out at the top ten universities. A total of 1.98 million procedures were carried out across all universities in 2015.

***The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency annually collects data on staff employment at UK universities. Staff numbers for the top ten biomedical research universities are as follows:

University of Oxford:              12,595

UCL:                                      11,980

University of Cambridge:        10,725

University of Manchester:      10,260

University of Edinburgh:         9,705

Imperial College London:        8,140

University of Nottingham:       7,470

King's College London:           7,250

University of Birmingham:      7,200

University of Glasgow:           6,760


Case studies


The full case study referenced in the quote can be found here:


University of Oxford

A research team led by the University of Oxford has found a promising treatment for degenerative disease spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a leading genetic cause of child death.

SMA can result in motor neurone degeneration and increasing muscle weakness. Existing proposed treatments use a splice-switching oligonucleotide or SSO. This has to be injected into the spine with a lumbar puncture, making treatment less straightforward.

The Oxford team has developed a new treatment called Pip6a-PMO. The SSO can be delivered intravenously and in lower doses, using a peptide called Pip6a.When young mice with genetically engineered SMA were injected with the Pip6a-PMO, the results were rapidly clear: At just seven days old they were noticeably heavier and faster growing than untreated mice; at 12 days, tests found they were much stronger than untreated counterparts. Tests also found that mice treated with two doses of Pip6a-PMO survived an average of 457 days - 38 times longer than untreated mice.

The advantage of Pip6a is that it is both a central nervous system treatment and a systemic treatment for the wider body. Such an approach could also work for diseases like Parkinson’s, Huntingdon’s and ALS. The Oxford team is currently planning a 2-year study that would start next year, to evaluate the treatment in patients.


University of Edinburgh

Researchers have identified key molecules that drive the development of bile duct cancer, revealing opportunities for earlier diagnosis and new treatments.

Cancer of the bile ducts – known as cholangiocarcinoma – is the second most common primary liver cancer and has a very poor prognosis. Fewer than one in 20 people with the disease will survive five years beyond diagnosis. The disease is difficult to detect and often is not accurately diagnosed until the tumour is too advanced for surgery, which is the only curative treatment. The cancer does not typically respond to chemotherapy and new treatments are urgently needed.

In studies involving mice, researchers at the University of Edinburgh have discovered that a key pathway – known as wnt – drives tumour growth in bile duct cancer. Experimental drugs that block the wnt pathway are already being tested in patients with other cancers. The researchers now hope to set up a clinical trial to test these new medicines in people with bile duct cancer.

In a separate study of mice, researchers found that a molecule called Notch 3 is a key driver of tumour development in bile duct cancer. Blocking Notch 3 could offer a new way of treating the disease and the team next plans to test how the molecule could be targeted with drugs.


University of Cambridge

Cancer is a disease where tissues, not just cells, go wrong. So, to understand cancers, we need to study them in whole organisms – in this case mice. This enables researchers to see how the different cells in tumours ‘talk’ and interact with each other. Our researchers use mice genetically engineered to be prone to cancer to study pancreas, lung and breast cancers. In some mice, human tumour tissue is transplanted from cancer patients and allowed to grow in the animal. This helps us understand how cancers spread around the body and determine which treatments are most effective.

Our researchers are also actively looking at techniques that will help us reduce the numbers of animals used in research. These include the development of organoids – ‘mini-organs’ that allow researchers to see how organs such as the liver and brain grow and on which to screen large numbers of potential drug candidates without using animals.


King’s College London

Previous studies have suggested that eczema may be linked to a lower risk of skin cancer. However, it has been difficult to draw firm conclusions based on studies of human populations because eczema symptoms vary in severity and medication used to treat the condition might also influence the development of cancer.

Researchers at King’s have been using mouse models to understand better how defects in the skin might affect the development of cancer. In a study published in eLife, the team found that eczema caused by defects in the skin barrier might actually protect against skin cancer, where the immune response triggered by eczema may help prevent tumour formation by shedding potentially cancerous cells from the skin. Genetically engineered mice lacking three skin barrier proteins (‘knock-out’ mice) were used in the King’s study to replicate some of the changes in the skin found in eczema sufferers.


University of Manchester

The use of genetic therapy to treat advanced retinal degeneration and blindness is a fast developing area of medical science, in response to the needs of an increasingly elderly population across the world. The University of Manchester’s contribution to this research drive involves developing a new type of gene therapy to reprogram cells deep in the eye to sense light. The ultimate aim is to treat all types of blindness caused by damaged or missing rods and cones, the eye’s light receptor cells. These developments have been made possible by advances in gene transfer technology. For instance, the team injects into blind mice the human gene for rhodopsin, a pigment that detects light. This enables other cells that lie deeper within the retina to capture light. By giving these cells the ability to produce their own light-detecting pigment, they can to some extent compensate for the loss of rods and cones.


Imperial College London

A team at Imperial College London work on understanding a group of serious kidney diseases called atypical haemolytic uraemic syndrome (atypical HUS) and C3 glomerulopathy. These conditions develop when there is a malfunction among a group of important proteins called complement. Using mouse models of atypical HUS, the scientists were able to determine which particular complement protein was causing the damage. Thanks to this work with mouse models, together with other research, we now have an effective treatment for patients with atypical HUS. However, there is still no treatment for C3 glomerulopathy, so research continues.


University of Glasgow

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have used a wide range of genetically modified mice to develop models of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), a rare and serious condition of the peripheral nervous system. More than 100,000 people worldwide per annum develop this severe paralytic disease for which treatment is very limited. In the UK there are 1500 cases reported each year. The emergence of Zika virus as a major new cause of GBS adds urgency to solving the mechanistic pathways and treatment routes for this disorder.

GBS is caused by abnormal immune factors that attack peripheral nerves by punching holes in the electrically sensitive nerve membranes, rendering them leaky and functionally inactive. A key molecule that mediates this nerve injury is the membrane attack complex, and the research group has shown that inhibitors of this complex are highly effective in treating mouse models of GBS. Indeed experiments proving this have directly led to human clinical trials in GBS that are currently ongoing.

As part of the group’s current work, the researchers are identifying new classes of autoantibodies that trigger the onset of GBS and performing studies on the highly toxic calcium influx into nerves that can be exploited therapeutically. The group is currently using mouse models to explore how Zika virus damages nerves and thereby causes GBS and the other severe neurological deficits that have recently emerged in Latin America and elsewhere.


University of Nottingham

Researchers from The University of Nottingham have designed a bone graft scaffold to deliver antibiotics to contaminated bone. Each year in the UK there are over 66,000 open fractures where the bone has penetrated through the skin with a high risk of infection (from 5-22%) despite optimal initial surgery. Many of these fractures are associated with bone loss which requires bone grafting. However, this has to be delayed for 6 to 9 weeks after the initial injury as it is thought too risky to implant what is effectively dead bone taken either from the patient’s own pelvis or banked/donated from another patient into the potentially contaminated site of injury.

To minimise bone infection the patient has to have a second surgery for the bone grafting after the soft tissues over the fracture have healed. The novel bone-scaffold material developed by researchers, specialising in Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, is impregnated with a combination of antibiotics and is gradually resorbed as the patient’s bone reforms. The product has prevented infection in a sheep model of bone injury with bacterial contamination and successfully encouraged new bone ingrowth. The research has been published in the open access journal eCells and Materials. or // 0141 330 6557/4831

First published: 27 October 2016

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