Cambridge amongst 10 universities undertaking one third of UK’s animal testing

Joanna Taylor 8 November 2016

Cambridge is amongst a group of ten research universities that carried out a third of all animal experiments in the UK in 2015.

1.37 million tests were carried out between the ten institutions, according to a report released by UCL. Cambridge University undertook 181,080 procedures involving animal experiments in 2015. Oxford carried out the most at 226,241, followed by Edinburgh, UCL and then Cambridge.

According to the report, 99% of the tests involved fish and rodents, and were split evenly between experimentation and the breeding of genetically modified animals. Dr Lindsay Marshall of Humane Society International claimed that the reasoning for increased animal research “no longer remains firm” as 95% of drugs that appear to work on animals do not make it on to the market after failing later tests.

Professor Michael Arthur, a researcher at UCL, disagreed with her criticism, saying that animal research provides answers that other forms of testing are not able to. We are “proud” to perform a “significant proportion of the UK’s leading biomedical research” he claimed, pointing to a test on fish which aided the discovery of a genetic defect associated with childhood Parkinsonism.

Research universities are committed to the ‘3Rs’: replacement, reduction and refinement, which means avoiding replacing animals in tests, keeping numbers per experiment as small as possible, and minimising suffering. Despite this, data from the Home Office shows that 4.07 million animals were tested on for the first time in 2015.

Many universities reduce the number of test subjects by using the same animals in different experiments, Dr Marshall explains, arguing that for those particular animals it only “increases the amount of suffering they experience”.

Dr Katy Taylor, Director of Science at Cruelty Free International agrees, calling animal experiments “cruel”. UK taxpayers who are funding research would be “horrified to discover their money is helping to finance this suffering”, she claimed. “We urge all universities to leave behind this archaic practice and focus on developing innovative and humane research methods for the twenty-first century for the good of both humans and animals.”

Cambridge’s policy on use of animals is to “place good welfare at the centre of all our animal research”. “We only use animals in research where there are no alternatives,” a University spokesperson said. We “try to limit the number of animals used, either through improving our experimental techniques and design or through the development of technologies or techniques that can replace animals entirely.”

Animal research at Cambridge is overseen by the Animal and Ethical Review Body who ensure that Cambridge honour their commitment to the 3Rs.

Researchers at Harvard University hope to replace animal testing with organs created through 3D printing. Earlier this year they created the first entirely 3D-printed organ-on-a-chip with integrated sensing. The chip can easily be re-created and customised for different experiments. Having created the structure of a heart on a chip, researchers hope to be able to rapidly produce chips for other organs. They could then even tailor them to match the properties of specific diseases or the cells of an individual patient.

Cambridge itself claims to be “actively looking” for research methods to “refine” and “ultimately replace” animal research. The number of animal experiments conducted in the UK increased by 7% between 2014 and 2015.