Animals in research: FAQs

What do you use animals in research for?

At Plymouth University we conduct a small and varied portfolio of research that uses animals, all of which is done under the strict regulation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (1986) / EU Directive 2010/63/

There are several different areas of research that use animals, from the development of cures and advancements in treatment for potential debilitating disease which have the potential to affect millions of people worldwide – including cancer, stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Ebola, bovine TB, and others - to the protection of Man and the environment by advancement in research on the effects of chemicals in the environment and ways of remediating or preventing them ever entering the environment.

We conduct research which seeks to find sustainable feed sources for livestock and research to try and promote better welfare for domesticated animals.

What benefits are there from using animals in research?

The use of animals in research has made and is making a huge and important contribution to the advancement of medical treatments and has saved countless lives – most modern medicine and surgery exist because of it. And it is not just humans who have benefited – more than half of the drugs used by vets were developed for human medicine.

What about the welfare of the animals you use?

We do not condone cruelty to animals, and neither do we practise it in the laboratory. All work undertaken at Plymouth University is regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (1986) / EU Directive 2010/63/EU. This legislation was put in place to ensure that all animal research is conducted as humanely as possible.

Several review processes are instigated to ensure that any work using animals is scientifically justified, cannot be done in any other way and that any potential for a drop in welfare is strictly minimised. This review process is continual and doesn’t stop once the project has been commissioned.

Everyone in our labs who has contact with the animals we use have been trained to do so by both internal and external experts and are subject to review to ensure they are always working to the highest possible standards.

What animals do you use?

Animals are used in a very small proportion of our wider research portfolio. Where there are alternatives to using these, we employ them and in some cases are working on studies that will replace or reduce the use of animals. Examples of animals typically used by Plymouth are rodents (rats and mice), fish (zebrafish and severally commercially farmed species), chickens and fruit flies. The numbers of each type of animal used each year is available on our website.

Are there alternatives to using animals?

Over the past 30 years science has made huge strides in finding alternatives to using animals in research, by removing the need for them, refining how they are used or reducing the number of animals required. We are at the forefront of this science and we have received a number of grants from organisations such as the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and the Dr. Hadwen Trust to help fund our work in this area and continue to strive to advance this area further. 

Why is it necessary to use animals?

We cannot endanger human life with untested drugs and treatments, so it is a legal requirement to test first on animals. An animal’s biology is very similar to a human’s; for example, mice share over 90 per cent of their genes with humans, and most of their basic chemistry is the same. A laboratory rat has the same organs as a human, in the same place and doing the same jobs. Fruit flies are vital to researching conditions of the nervous system – they share more than 75 per cent of disease genes with humans.

What happens to the animals at the end of the research?

Due to the nature of the work, unfortunately most of the animals used in research will eventually be euthanized. This is due to a need for sampling and investigation of specific systems within the body in order that we can gain as much information as possible and cannot be done any other way. Where there is a need to euthanize an animal this is done according to strict guidance set out in the Code of Practice for operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (1986) / Directive 2010/63/EU. It is carried out painlessly and without distress to the animal.