Ten organisations account for nearly half of all animal research in Great Britain
Understanding Animal Research (UAR), an organisation that promotes open communications about animal research, has today (15 July 2021) published a list of the ten organisations in Great Britain that carry out the highest number of animal procedures – those used in medical, veterinary, and scientific research. These statistics are freely available on the organisations’ websites, including the University of Glasgow, as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and openness around the use of animals in research.
This list coincides with the Home Office’s publication of Great Britain’s statistics for animals used in research in 2020.
These ten organisations carried out 1,343,893 procedures, 47% or nearly half of the 2,883,310 procedures carried out in Great Britain in 2020*. More than 99% of these 1,343,893 procedures were carried out in rodents or fish.
The ten organisations are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2020. Each organisation’s name links to its animal research webpage, which includes more detailed statistics. This is the sixth consecutive year organisations have come together to publicise their collective statistics and examples of their research.
Organisation Number of Procedures
The Francis Crick Institute 183,811
University of Cambridge 177,291
Medical Research Council 173,637
University of Oxford 169,511
University of Edinburgh 151,669
University of Glasgow 102,526
University of Manchester 93,448
King's College London 85,414
Imperial College London 63,670
Animal research and Covid-19
Animal research has been essential for developing lifesaving vaccines and treatments for Covid-19. Ferrets and macaque monkeys were used to test the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, including the successful Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Hamsters are being used to develop Covid-19 treatment strategies as they display a more severe form of the disease than ferrets and monkeys. Guinea pigs have also been used in regulatory research to batch test vaccine potency.
Despite all this research to develop vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, the majority of UK research facilities carried out significantly less research than usual, due to the various national lockdowns. Therefore, the 2020 figures cannot be reasonably compared with previous statistics.
All organisations 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 optimising the experience of the animals to improve animal welfare. However, as institutions expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.
All organisations listed 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. More than 120 organisations have signed the Concordat including UK universities, medical research charities, research funders, learned societies and commercial research organisations.
Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, which developed the Concordat on Openness, said: "Animal research has been essential to the development and safety testing of lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Macaque monkeys and ferrets have been used to develop vaccines, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, hamsters are being used to develop treatments, and guinea pigs are used to quality-check each batch of vaccines. Animal testing provided scientists with initial data that the vaccines were effective and safe enough to move into human clinical trials. During these trials, thousands more humans than animals were used to test how effective and safe the vaccines were in people. The pandemic has led to increased public interest in the way vaccines and medicines are developed and UAR has worked with research institutions and funding bodies throughout the UK to develop resources that explain to the public how animals have been used in this critical research."
Jan-Bas Prins, Director of the Crick’s Biological Research Facility, said:
“The pandemic has shone a light on the continuing value of animal research, including the role it has played in supporting the development of safe and effective vaccines. And it has also opened up new ways of working, including greater emphasis on bioinformatics and improved data sharing globally. Although advances in alternative methods have reduced the need to use animals for some experiments, our bodies are complex and many systems have yet to be recreated artificially. This means scientists still need to use animals to study a wide range of conditions including infectious diseases, cancer and developmental problems, while putting great efforts into developing and implementing non-animal methods at the same time.”
MRC Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt, said: “The MRC has been working to support the rapid development of treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 and, in doing so, is committed to ensuring the highest possible levels of animal welfare and to replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals where possible. Early animal studies were key to establishing the safety and efficacy of the different COVID-19 vaccines that are now being rolled out to millions of people every day across the world.”
The Covid-19 vaccine team from the University of Oxford, said: "Animals still play an important part in the development of vaccines for both humans and animals, with both safety and efficacy needing to be demonstrated before a vaccine can move on to human trials. In the case of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, rhesus macaques were used as one animal model because as primates they are close relatives to humans and have been widely used in medical research in the past, which gives us a good understanding of how closely their immune systems resemble ours. Rhesus macaques are currently the recommended animal species for testing coronavirus vaccines, and because we do not have the facilities to conduct these experiments in Oxford these two studies were conducted in partnership with Public Health England and the National Institutes of Health in the US."
Dr Martin Vinnell, Establishment Licence Holder, University of Cambridge, said:
“Animal research currently plays an essential 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 we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine. We always aim to use as few animals as possible, refining our research and actively looking for ways of replacing their use, for example in the development of ‘mini-organs’ grown from human cells, which can be used to model disease.”
University of Glasgow case study
New insight into early stages of bowel cancer could provide an effective treatment strategy
A recent study, led by researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute at the University of Glasgow and the University of Helsinki, used mouse models to identify key factors underpinning the development of bowel or colorectal cancer in patients with a genetic predisposition to the disease.
The Nature study provided a crucial insight into the early stages of bowel cancer, and also identified a molecule that is a ‘key player’ in this process. The breakthrough information could lead to new ways to prevent tumour development in high-risk individuals.
The study’s mouse models looked at APC, one of the most commonly mutated genes in colorectal tumours, to identify how APC mutant cells compete with neighbouring normal cells. The researchers discovered the involvement of a molecule called NOTUM in the development of the disease. They hope that one day it will be possible to deploy NOTUM inhibitors, some of which are currently under development, as a possible early treatment.
APC loss gives cells a competitive advantage over their non-mutant neighbours, making them very good at forming cancer in the gut. In this study, researchers used model systems to uncover what causes APC-mutant cells to become super-competitors and drive the very early stages of colorectal cancer. Pinpointing the involvement of the molecule NOTUM in these early stages of colorectal cancer could be the key to preventing the disease in high-risk individuals.
First published: 15 July 2021