select search filters
roundups & rapid reactions
before the headlines
Fiona fox's blog

scientists react to the Home Office statistics on animal research for 2005

Following the publication of the annual national statistics for the number of animals used in scientific research, the Science Media Centre gathered the opinions of scientists on the changes since last year and comments on the importance of this work to the future of medical research.

Read more about the Animals in Scientific Prodecures 2005 report from the Home Office Science, Research & Statistics website

Dr Ian Jackson, Senior Scientist, MRC Human Genetics Unit, said:

“More mice are being used in fundamental research to understand the human genome. Mice have a very similar genetic makeup to humans and they are an excellent model for human disease. One positive outcome from the genome sequencing programmes is that we now use mice much more effectively in research; the small increase in numbers actually translates to a very significant increase in discoveries.”

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the National Institute for Medical Research, said:

“The modest increase is largely, if not entirely accounted for by genetically altered animals, the vast majority mice, which are so valuable in providing understanding of how the body normally works, what goes wrong in a wide range of diseases, and to allow testing of potential cures. Even if there are no detectable effects of the genetic alteration, or the effects are cured by some treatment, the animals have to be counted – so the number of animals used under the Act is almost bound to increase.”

Professor Sandy Thomas, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said:

“We are pleased that some improvements have been made in the presentation of the data to make it more accessible to non-specialists. However, to improve clarity further, the Council has recommended that the Home Office should review the current system for classifying the severity of experiments, and that examples of different types of experiments should be provided to make the information easier to understand. We hope that the Home Office will consider these proposals in the future.

“Whatever its final form, REACH will greatly increase animal testing across the EU. It is crucial that the pain and suffering experienced by the animals and the numbers of animals used are reduced as far as possible, and that alternative methods for assessing the safety of chemicals should be explored further.”

Dr Sophie Petit-Zeman, Director of Public Dialogue, Association of Medical Research Charities, said:

“Animals are used in medical research for patient benefit; we must see the slight increase in numbers used in the context of this ethical and practical imperative. The increase is mainly accounted for by genetically modified animals, which are invaluable across research disciplines, from cancer to autism. We strongly encourage our member charities to promote the principles of replacement, refinement and reduction in the work they fund, and animal use continues to decline as a proportion of the UK’s overall medical research spend. The research community is clearly committed to replacement and reduction set alongside best science for patient benefit.”

Dr Simon Festing, Executive Director of RDS, said:

“The small rise in animal research last year shows that UK medical research is healthy and robust. Patients can be reassured that we are doing all in our power to develop cures and better treatments, whilst safeguarding animal welfare as best we can.”

A spokesperson from the Institute of Animal Technology, said:

“Anyone concerned about the welfare of laboratory animals may be reassured because in the UK we have specifically trained, formally qualified professionals, known as Animal Technologists, caring for all animals used in scientific studies.

“Animal Technologists operate to the highest standards in the world, and animal welfare is paramount in all we do.

“Working in partnership with scientists and HMI, Animal Technologists ensure continuous improvements to the standards and requirements of animal care. Animal research is not cruel, it is carried out humanely and lab animals very well cared for.”

Dr John Parrington, University of Oxford, said:

” think these figures have to be placed in the context of developments in medical and biological research. The slight increase in animal numbers this year is almost wholly due to an increase in the use of genetically modified mice.

“The sequencing of the human and mouse genomes has opened up the possibility of determining the role that every gene in our body plays in terms of regulating bodily functions and also which genes are involved in disease. A vital way of studying the function of genes in the context of the whole body is to make gentically modified ‘model’ organisms that have defects in particular genes. Such organisms can be used to make important discoveries about human bodily function and to discover the cause of disease.

“Because mice share many genes in common with us, they provide a valuable model. Scientists should always seek to reduce numbers of animals used in research where this is feasible. However, this should never be at the expense of progress in our understanding of how the body works and in the development of new medicines. Otherwise we might as well return to a time when witch doctors and faith healers were in charge of trying to make us better.

“Many times more mice are killed as vermin than are used for scientific research. Many more animals are killed as food. A lot of the focus is on numbers of animals used in research because for many people, the connection between scientific research and the medicines that their doctor prescribes them to make them better, is a very abstract one.”

Jo Tanner, Chief Executive of the Coalition for Medical Progress, said:

“We are living in a golden age of medical discovery, from mapping the human genome to finding new cures and treatments for deadly and debilitating conditions. And at the heart of this golden age is the relatively small use of animals. The Home Office report shows not only that there continue to be high levels of medical research in the UK but that we have one of the most stringent and open regimes of research in the world.”

Vicky Cowell, Director, Patients’ Voice for Medical Advance, said:

“As patients are the ultimate benefactors of medical research using animals we welcome the publication of these statistics as part of the Government’s commitment to transparency in the field of animals in research.”

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

“The regulations governing animal research in the UK are the most stringent worldwide. It is critical that we maintain a supportive environment for this research to be carried out in the UK so that these animals continue to benefit from the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

“Research using animals is only permitted where there is no alternative. It has been of critical value in the development of medicines such as insulin and penicillin and vaccines.

“The BIA endorses the principles of the “three Rs”: Reduction, Refinement and Replacement, which aim to reduce the number of animals used in medical research.”

Dr Mick Hastings, Cambridge MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, said:

“As a practising Medical Research Scientist I welcome the publication of these figures by the Home Office and the transparency they bring. The figures provide a solid background of evidence with which the general public can make up their own minds about the relative costs and benefits of my work. These figures show that the stringent UK regulatory framework is the best way to advance the health of our population, both human and animal, through essential research.”

Professor John Henry, Professor of Accident and Emergency, St. Mary’s Hospital, said:

“I for one would not be here now if it were not for animal research.”

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

“Reducing animal use is about minimising numbers in particular projects which overall statistics can’t reflect. This is because as existing projects cut their numbers, there may be animals used in new areas of research.

“The rising numbers of GM animals is explainable, but that doesn’t mean it is a tide that we should not be trying to turn. With the tens of thousands of genes that exist and the variety of ways that animals could be modified, there are countless possibilities for creating new animals. It is important that the necessity, value and relevance of creating these animals is reviewed on a case by case basis. Looking for alternative non-animal methods and devising new ways of conducting experiments to reduce suffering should also remain priorities, particularly when they can lead to better scientific outcomes.”

in this section

filter RoundUps by year

search by tag