Almost a half of all animal testing carried out in the UK is done in universities, with just six universities accounting for a quarter of all the animal testing in the country.
A Freedom of Information request by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) revealed just how much animal testing goes on in British universities.
In 2013, 4,017,758 animals were used in 4,121,582 experiments across the UK. 1.8 million of these were tested in university laboratories. Six of those universities accounted for 1,045,925 animals: University of Edinburgh (241,86), Oxford University (190,169), University College London (181,295), Cambridge University (169,353), King’s College London (132,885), Imperial College London (130,358).
Dr Katy Taylor, head of science at the BUAV, said: “Shockingly, universities account for half of the total number of animals used in experiments carried out in the UK and are responsible for some particularly distressing and disturbing experiments.
“Yet, despite growing concern regarding animal research, much of it is publicly funded. It is ironic that many universities are also leaders in the research to find alternatives to using animals.
“So while one department may be developing cutting edge alternatives, another may be breeding animals to be used in experiments.”
“Distressing and disturbing experiments”
The BUAV also detailed some of the experiments which involved animals. On the face of things they seem incredibly brutal.
In one anxiety experiment at Cambridge University, marmoset monkeys were said to have been blasted with loud noise and frightened with rubber snakes resembling cobras.
Other alleged procedures included subjecting young month-old rats to repeated electric shocks (at Edinburgh) and creating a glass “window” in the skulls of mice before damaging their brains with a laser (at Imperial College).
But are these findings actually that shocking? Many voices in the scientific community think not.
Wendy Jarrett, chief executive of the organisation Understanding Animal Research, said: “The universities named here all rank as the best research universities in the UK, so it is hardly surprising that they carry out the most animal research. We have these universities to thank for numerous medical breakthroughs over the years, from Penicillin to IVF to cancer drugs.”
She also pointed out that the Home Office already publishes statistics on animal research (which showed that 49% of 2013′s animal testing took place in universities). Several of the universities mentioned already openly publish the number and species of animals they use on their websites.
Furthermore, the universities don’t seem like they particularly want to hide anything. Each of them came forward with a lengthy statement explaining their position on animal testing. We’ve selected some key extracts below.
University of Cambridge
A Cambridge University spokesman said: ”We are proud of our research, which meets the highest standards of animal welfare and is scrutinised by our Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Board – who strive to reduce the number of animals used.
“Our scientists are actively looking at new techniques to replace the use of animals in research. But without the use of animals, we would not have many of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine.
“Some of the important and pioneering work carried out in Cambridge that has led to major improvements in people’s lives was only possible with the use of animals – from the development of IVF techniques through to new drugs for multiple sclerosis and cancer.”
University of Edinburgh
A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: ”The University of Edinburgh uses animals in research programmes only when their use is justified on scientific, ethical and legal grounds, and when no alternatives are available. All such work is strictly regulated and carried out under licences, which are reviewed and approved by the Home Office and are issued only if the potential benefits of the work are likely to outweigh the effects on the animals concerned.
“The university is actively involved in the development of alternative approaches that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research.”
King’s College London
A King’s College London spokesman said: “King’s College London is one of the largest health research institutions in the UK, carrying out cutting-edge medical and biomedical research across many disciplines.
“Around 127,000 people in the UK are thought to live with Parkinson’s disease. L-Dopa is the main drug used by Parkinson’s sufferers to improve their mobility and symptoms, but can have severe side effects such as involuntary body movements and muscle spasms.
“Research with marmosets has helped us to better understand and manage these complications by lowering the dosage and combining L-Dopa with drugs that prolong the duration of its effect. Non-human primates, including the marmoset, are the only species that show quantifiable symptoms that mimic the human conditions associated with Parkinson’s disease.”
University College London
A spokeswoman for University College London said: ”UCL is a large institution with over 5,000 staff in the School of Life and Medical Sciences alone. We have a high research output, with new scientific results being published every day as we strive to increase our knowledge of human and animal health. To achieve valid results, some research projects require the use of animals.
“Our non-human primate (NHP) research is of the highest quality, regulated by the strict provisions of the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and carried out by a highly skilled, responsible and caring team of researchers and animal technologists, with specialist veterinarian support and scrutiny. Non-human primate work is only conducted when there are no alternatives available.
University of Oxford
An Oxford University spokesman said: ”Oxford is a pioneer in developing alternative research techniques which do not involve animals and the University only uses animals for specific and crucial elements of research which cannot be conducted in any other way.
“All such research is closely monitored and carried out according to the highest standards and conditions as set down by the licensing authority, the Home Office. Only a fractional proportion of the University’s biomedical research involves primates. In 2013, 45 primates were used in scientific studies, 0.02% of the total for all animals.”
Included in this research was a study into “different regions within the primate prefrontal cortex”. The research aimed to help our understanding of neurological dysfunction in humans, for example after a stroke.
Imperial College London
A spokesman for Imperial College London: “Imperial College London believes that the use of animals in research is vital to improve human and animal health and welfare.
“Imperial is committed to ensuring that, in cases where this research is deemed essential, all animals in the College’s care are treated with full respect, and that all staff involved with this work show due care and consideration at every level.”