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expert reaction to Home Office annual statistics of scientific procedures on living animals 2018

The Home office has published its annual statistics on animal research in the UK, including the numbers of animals used, as well as the severity of the procedures. This roundup accompanied a media briefing at the SMC


Dr Mike Turner, Director of Science, Wellcome:

“This year’s Home Office animal research figures show that the overall number of procedures involving animals continues to fall.  This reflects further progress towards reducing, refining and replacing animals in research.  New technologies are helping to reduce the number of animals in research, but animals are still essential for studying a range of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes that require an understanding of how disease interacts with the body.

“Wellcome supports the continued use of animals in research where it is legally, ethically and scientifically justified, but we are committed to developing alternative approaches where possible and to improving public understanding of how and why animals are used in research.”


Prof John Martin, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, UCL, said:

“The number of animals used in UK scientific research has remained unchanged over the last ten years.  This healthy activity reflects the work of scientists in trying to understand and treat diseases which not only affect patients in the NHS but also world wide.

“Twenty one percent of animal experiments was to understand the nervous system.  One might expect an increase in this percentage in the future as science tries to understand and prevent dementia.

“As a member of the Home Office Animal Procedures Committee for eight years I am aware that the UK has one of the tightest regulated use of animals in research in the world.”


Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive, Understanding Animal Research, said:

“These figures show once again that experiments using mice, rats, fish and birds make up 97% of animal research in this country.  However, people will be pleased to know that millions of pounds are invested every year in finding non-animal alternatives, which help to bring the numbers of animals used down over time.  This sets the right balance between preventing and treating human and animal diseases, while ensuring that animals are only used when absolutely necessary.”


Dr Sinead Savage, Nanomedicine Research Lab Manager, University of Manchester, said:

“It’s very heartening to see the total number of animal procedures performed in 2018 is the lowest yet since 2007.  In particular, it’s great to see that the number of animals created or bred as genetically altered is down 10%.  Breeding of genetically altered animals can support some amazing science, but it must be performed responsibly, to reduce the numbers of animals bred and not used for procedures.  It is particularly important to remember that “not used for a procedure” does not mean wasted or unnecessary.  These animals may be used for post-mortem purposes, and without genetically altered animals the fantastic research that the UK is so world-renowned for couldn’t be achieved.  It is also worth noting that 98% of those bred and not used for a procedure were classed as mild, moderate or sub-threshold severity.  Examples of sub-threshold or mild modifications could be as simple as animals who have cells that fluoresce under certain conditions, which doesn’t affect the animals well-being, but is an essential research tool.

“One important take-away from these statistics is that one quarter of all procedures performed were for regulatory testing, highlighting that animals used in so called “basic research”, for example at universities, do not make up the entirety of animal procedures in the UK.  These regulatory tests are required by law for things such as testing medicinal products for humans and veterinary products, and cannot be avoided under the current legal framework.  The majority of procedures carried out on primates were for regulatory procedures, and these numbers are down 25% over the past decade.  Primates used in procedures do not include apes (chimpanzees, gorillas or chimpanzees).  Of course, none of these procedures were used for cosmetic testing, as this has been illegal in the UK since 1998.”


Declared interests

Dr Mike Turner: “No conflicts, except that Wellcome funds science.”

Prof John Martin: “I have no competing interest except that I am a scientific researcher.”

Dr Sinead Savage: “I believe I have nothing to declare, I have only associations with the University of Manchester and the Graphene Flagship research consortium.”

None others received.

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