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scientists react to Home Office Animal Research Statistics 2005

Professor Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC), said:

“The increased use of genetically modified animals, the vast majority of which are mice, is a result of new techniques that have opened up very important areas of research. This is an exciting emerging field, of direct relevance to human health. Genetically modified animals have already given important insights into many diseases, both inherited and non-inherited. Recent developments include the creation of a mouse model of Down’s syndrome and the development of treatments for certain types of cancer. The rapid progress resulting from genetic modification shows that research on animals continues to play an essential role in medical progress.

“Nearly all of the animals used in medical research come from designated sources in the UK, where animal welfare legislation is very strict. The closure of breeding farms in the UK as a result of harassment and violence could make it necessary to import animals from countries where regulations are not so tight. The Medical Research Council is firmly committed to reduction and replacement of animal use and refinement of techniques to improve welfare, and has earmarked more than £600,000 in 2006 for 3Rs research. However, it is vital that we maintain breeding centres in the UK in order to maintain high standards of the welfare for animals used in research.”

Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), said:

“The statistics provided by the Home Office on the use of animals in scientific research and testing provide only part of the picture. They are a useful indicator of trends in animal use but they should not be considered in isolation. They are not a measure of the UK’s commitment to science and technologies to implement the principles of the 3Rs – that is the replacement of animals with humane alternatives, the reduction in the numbers of animals used and the refinement of experiments to minimise suffering. In the UK, there is considerable investment in the 3Rs. This year the National Centre for the 3Rs which was established by the Government in 2004, spent £1 million on research on the 3Rs – much of which was focussed on the replacement of animal use.”

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Division of Developmental Genetics, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, said:

“The modest increase in total numbers of animals used in “procedures” appears to be accounted for by the ever-expanding numbers of genetically modified animals, mostly mice, which are extremely valuable for understanding human disease and for the search for cures. The vast majority of these have no, or very mild symptoms, and are simply used for breeding, which counts as a procedure and therefore inflates the statistics.

“The regulations under which animal research is conducted in the UK are among the most stringent in the world, requiring any use of animals to be justified and putting the emphasis on reducing suffering and the severity of procedures. Perhaps in the future it will be possible to carry out more experiments on human cells in culture, making use of, for example, human embryonic stem cells, in particular to carry out some of the more routine screening procedures. But until we have considerably more understanding of embryonic development, of whole animal physiology and behaviour, and of how pathogens such as viruses interact with their hosts, such approaches will be limited.”

Professor Chris Higgins, Director of the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, Imperial College, said:

“We now have a much greater understanding of how individual cells work and the imperative is to understand how these cells work in the context of the whole body in order to develop safe and effective drugs. Specifically, an increase in the use of genetically-modified mice reflects our ability to generate animal models which more closely reflect human disease and therefore give us far more precise approaches to developing new treatments. For example, we cannot understand how the infective agent causing BSE spreads from the gut when ingested as food, to the brain where it causes vCJD, without studying whole animals. Genetically-modified mice provide the best model for this. The UK is an international leader in this and similar areas of research.”

Dr Simon Festing, Exective Director of the Research Defence Society (RDS), said:

“Whilst we can expect the usual bleating from the animal rights groups, the expansion in animal research and the use of GM mice is good news for patients suffering from any disease with a genetic cause, from cystic fibrosis to cancer.”

Professor Steve Brown, Director of the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit, said:

“If we are really to rise to the challenge of discovering how genes cause disease in humans we have to use these technologies to study the relationship between genes and disease. We have to create new strains of mice in which individual genes are knocked out. These mice strains are indispensable in developing new therapeutic approaches.”

Philip Wright, Director of Science and Technology at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), said:

“The Home Office’s figures show that industry is at the forefront of implementing the 3Rs of reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research into disease and the medicines to combat it. The number of procedures in industry has declined, with the small expansion being in the public sector – academia and Government – and almost certainly reflects the UK Government’s increased investment in biomedical research. The decline in industry procedures is also a reflection of the fact that, increasingly, UK-based pharmaceutical companies are looking to carry out animal research abroad.”

Aisling Burnand, Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association (BIA), said:

“Animal research is vital to bring to fruition important medical research and convert this into life saving treatments for patients. Without animal testing we would not have organ transplants or bone marrow transplants, or have made progress towards treatments for cancer. The UK has what are widely recognised as the strictest guidelines in the world governing the use of animals for scientific research which is only permitted when there are no alternatives.”

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