We always aim to use as few animals as possible, refining our research and actively looking for ways of replacing their use.
This is to coincide 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.
The statistics are freely available on the organisations’ websites as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and openness around the use of animals in research.
The ten organisations are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2020. This is the sixth consecutive year organisations have come together to publicise their collective statistics and examples of their research.
A further breakdown of Cambridge’s numbers, including the number of procedures by species and detail of the levels of severity, can be found on our animal research pages.
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."
University of Cambridge Establishment Licence Holder Dr Martin Vinnell 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."
Adapted from a press release by Understanding Animal Research.
"Our aim is to make muscles wireless by intercepting electrical signals from the brain before they enter the damaged nerve and sending them directly to the target muscles via radio waves," says Sam Hilton, a Research Assistant in the team.
The procedure has been tested and refined in computer simulations, and on cells grown in the lab. But before it can be tested in humans there is another important step: testing its safety in living rats. To avoid testing in animals entirely would place untenable risk on the first human recipients of this new device. All the experiments are carefully designed to ensure that just enough animals are used to produce convincing data, without resulting in unnecessary excess.
By working out how complex microelectronics can interface with living tissue in a very precise and controlled way, this work has potential to improve or restore movement in patients suffering severe nerve damage - improving their quality of life and easing the burden on our healthcare services.