Researchers at the University of Reading are at the forefront of scientific and medical discovery for the benefit of society. Animal research plays an important role in some of our work. While we make every effort to keep their use to a minimum, some research can only take place with the use of animals.
Animal research has been critical to the development of some of the most important advances in medical science. Millions of people worldwide are helped daily by medicines developed using animal research, such as antibiotics, vaccines against diseases, and treatments for asthma, epilepsy and cancer.
We are committed to being open about our use of animals in research. The following information provides facts, background context and further information on the strict policies and practices we use, to help the public understand more about our research involving animals.
Openness about animal research
The University is a signatory to the ‘Concordat on Openness on Animal Research’, joining more than 100 other UK universities, charities, commercial companies, research councils, learned societies and umbrella bodies in a commitment to help the public understand more about animal research.
Animal research at Reading
Scientific research involving animals at Reading is aimed at improving lives, through subjects as diverse as biological sciences, pharmacy, psychology and agriculture.
Through our biomedical research at Reading we seek to determine the causes of some of the most pressing 21st century healthcare problems that affect our society. Among other examples, these include:
- cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke
- metabolic problems, such as diabetes
- conditions affecting the brain, such as epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease
- different forms of cancer
- muscle diseases, such as muscular dystrophy
- bacterial or viral infections.
With these studies we aim to develop new medicines or therapies to prevent or treat these and other conditions.
Our work crosses the scales of biology and research: from tiny individual molecules, to cells, through the workings of organs and their complex interactions that enable the body to function. At Reading, we have particular strengths in discovering the fundamental processes that control our bodies, and through human studies and clinical trials we work to convert these into new treatments.
Essentially we ask the simple questions: how do the complicated systems in our bodies work? What goes wrong in disease, and how could we either prevent disease or repair the damage that it causes? The answers to these questions, however, are far from simple and therefore we employ a wide range of world-leading expertise and technologies.
A great deal of our research is conducted in the laboratory “in vitro” – literally meaning ‘in glass’ – and therefore outside of the body. This kind of research studies the biochemistry of life, or uses cell or tissue culture techniques to explore the workings of cells or organs.
In considering how diseases develop, there are some things that simply cannot be reproduced on the laboratory bench. For this it is necessary to use animals, to enable the importance of our discoveries to be confirmed and developed into new treatments.
We also carry out research with agricultural animals. This has helped us to learn how to improve the health of people and animals, and protect the environment. Examples include:
- changing feed of dairy cows to improve the nutritional quality of milk
- finding ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from cattle
- testing vaccines to prevent the spread of bovine TB.
- More information on the University of Reading's Animal Research Policy
- Statistics on numbers of animals used in research at Reading (PDF – 56KB)
- Current projects including the use of animals for research as of 10 June 2016 (PDF – 480KB)
- The Home Office's guidance on research and testing using animals
- National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research
- Understanding Animal Research
The University of Reading is about to embark on the building of a new state-of-the-art Health and Life Sciences building. This development will allow Reading scientists to remain at the forefront of research in, and teaching of, the life sciences. The building will include new research facilities that will enable the close interaction of scientists across a wide range of disciplines and includes major new biomedical laboratories.
In order to improve our abilities to work safely, and to ensure the highest possible levels of animal welfare, our new building will also contain a new and high-specification biological resource unit (BRU). This is a specialised safe and secure facility where animals are looked after, and where research using these animals is performed. This is not expected to lead to an increase in the numbers of experiments in which animals are used, as work within the new unit is expected to continue at a similar level.
Frequently asked questions
- Why is research with animals needed?
- How we ensure that experiments are justified and regulated?
- How is animal welfare ensured?
- Where does research take place?
- Who works in the BRU?
- Which types of animals are used?
- How many animals are used?
- What about alternatives to animal research?
- Do you test cosmetics or household products on animals?
The University of Reading considers the use of animals in biomedical research to be essential for the development of strategies to prevent or treat serious diseases.
This only ever follows extensive non-animal work, for example using cell culture techniques or drug development programmes. Frequently, however, the way in which molecules and cells behave in the body cannot be reproduced precisely outside of the body, and many disease states cannot be simulated artificially.
In some cases we study a human disease that is induced in an animal, in order to study how it develops or whether we can successfully treat it.
We realise that sometimes biological processes in humans and other species are not identical, and therefore we only use the most appropriate animal techniques. This avoids spurious results that could lead to the development of drugs that might endanger human health.
Using animals in research is not an easy decision, and therefore animals are used only where justified by prior experiments, where the ill-effects of experiments can be minimised and where no alternative in vitro (non-animal based) approaches are possible.
In agricultural research, the use of animals is necessary to find ways to improve animal health, welfare and nutrition, and to reduce the impact of farming on the environment.
Prior to experiments using animals, sufficient evidence from previous non-animal research is required. To help in the process of determining what is appropriate and what is not, a carefully regulated process is in place to assess and authorise research where the potential suffering of animals is weighed against potential benefits to human health.
Each research leader is required to hold a licence granted by the UK Secretary of State for the Home Department (the Home Office), in which the precise details of experiments and the procedures to be used are documented.
Prior to a licence being granted, it must be approved by a dedicated local ethics review panel which includes experienced researchers, lay members of the public and experts in animal welfare. The panel helps to ensure that the highest standards of welfare are maintained, and may advise on the use of alternative approaches where evidence suggests that they have a lesser impact on animal wellbeing.
The plan of research must also be approved by a Home Office Inspector, an expert usually with veterinary expertise, who will also advise and help design the most appropriate and acceptable techniques. Adherence to the precise details of licences is overseen closely by the Inspector, who may visit at any time.
Animal welfare is protected by law through the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (as amended), which forms the basis of licencing and inspection system.
All those involved in research using animals hold the responsibility to uphold the highest standards of animal welfare, and of paramount importance for this is training. Every researcher that uses animals in their work receives nationally accredited training to ensure appropriate technical competence, understanding of the key issues that impact on animal welfare, and are trained to recognise the signs of suffering in the species that they will use.
Training enables each researcher to gain a Personal Licence from the Home Secretary that allows work with the specific species with which they have been trained. All experimental work has a maximal level of severity (with respect to discomfort or other measurements), and should the outcome of an experiment unexpectedly appear likely to exceed this, the experiment will be stopped, and if appropriate the animal will be put to sleep using a humane method. This happens very rarely, because prior work enables us to assess potential risks and plan accordingly.
The majority of animal research at Reading takes place within the biological resource unit (BRU). This is a specialised safe and secure facility where animals are looked after, and where research using these animals is performed. It is staffed by expert animal care and welfare officers, whose role is to ensure the highest levels of care. Some agricultural research involving animals takes place in specialist units at the University’s farms.
The BRU is staffed by a team of professional animal husbandry experts, headed by an Animal Care and Welfare Officer. The paramount responsibility of this team is ensuring that each animal is properly cared for. They hold the authority to stop any experiment if they encounter unexpected effects on animal health.
Working closely alongside researchers and the BRU team is a veterinary surgeon with appropriate experience who helps at all levels, from the design of experiments to closely monitoring animals for signs of unexpected outcomes. Together this research management structure ensures that animal welfare takes precedence over all other factors.
As a research community we take our responsibilities for animal health very seriously, and share experiences and best practice. If we are unsure or unable to fully justify experiments, weighing potential benefits against potential ill-effects to animals, work does not proceed.
Within the BRU at the University of Reading we use only small species such as mice, rats and occasionally, rabbits. We do not use larger species such as cats, dogs and non-human primates in the lab at Reading, although the University carries out some licensed research with farm animals, such as cows and sheep.
In recent years, gene engineering and editing technologies have been established, and from this the generation and use of transgenic animals (particularly mice) have become essential to develop detailed understanding of disease and its prevention or treatment. Transgenic animals have usually been engineered to lack a specific gene, sometimes in particular cell types, or they have had a normal gene replaced with a mutant form that replicates a disease-causing mutation. The breeding and study of transgenic mice has been increasingly important to biomedical research at Reading and constitutes a large proportion of our work with mice.
Year to year this varies a little, but in in a typical year 15 to 20 projects will be running in which between 2,000 and 4,000 animals may be used. Around 90% of these animals will be mice or rats.
We have published full statistics for 2004 onwards for numbers of animal procedures. A breakdown of the last four years, including areas of research and types of animals, is given below:
Researchers at Reading are leading the way to reduce the use of animals in research – a process known as ‘the 3Rs’ (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement). We place the 3Rs at the centre of the design of our work.
We are not permitted to use protected animals in research if alternative approaches are possible that do not require the use of animals. We strive to minimise the need for research using animals, and where no alternatives are available, we work to ensure that the numbers of animals are kept to the lowest level possible, while maintaining the ability to produce useful scientific results.
Our work also involves the design and use of new techniques that minimise the chance that an experiment may result in pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. This research influences improvements in animal welfare in laboratories around the world.
No. It is illegal to test cosmetics or their ingredients on animals in the UK, and has been since 1998.