The ten UK universities who do the most world-leading biomedical research* have announced their animal research statistics, revealing that they collectively conducted a third of all UK animal research in 2015.**
The top ten institutions conduct more than two thirds of all UK university animal research between them, completing a combined total of 1.37 million procedures. Over 99% of these procedures were carried out on rodents or fish, and in line with national data they were roughly evenly split between experiments and the breeding of genetically modified animals.
The ten universities are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2015. Each institution’s name links to a breakdown of their individual animal research statistics.
University of Oxford: 226,214
University of Edinburgh: 212,695
University of Cambridge: 181,080
King’s College London: 175,296
University of Manchester: 145,457
Imperial College London: 101,179
University of Glasgow: 49,082
University of Birmingham: 47,657
University of Nottingham: 31,689
The universities employ more than 90,000 staff between them***, and as you would expect the larger institutions tend to conduct the most animal research. All universities are committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible, minimising the number of animals used per experiment and minimising suffering to improve animal welfare. However, as universities expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.
All ten universities are signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, a commitment to be more open about the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK. 107 organisations have signed the concordat including UK universities, charities, research funders and commercial research organisations.
Animal research has played a key role in the development of virtually every medicine that we take for granted today. However, despite decades of dedicated research, many widespread and debilitating conditions are still untreatable. Medical research is a slow process with no easy answers, but animal research helps to take us incrementally closer to treatments for cancer, dementia, stroke and countless other conditions.
While many animal studies do not lead directly to treatments for diseases, ‘basic science’ research helps scientists to understand different processes in the body and how they can go wrong, underpinning future efforts to diagnose and treat various conditions. Additionally, many studies will show that a line of research is not worth pursuing. Although this can be disappointing, such research is incredibly valuable as scientists need to know which methods do not work and why so that they can develop new ones. Animal studies can also help to answer a wide range of research questions that are not directly related to diseases, such as exploring how genes determine traits or how brain functions develop.
The use of genetic therapy to treat advanced retinal degeneration and blindness is a fast developing area of medical science, in response to the needs of an increasingly elderly population across the world. The University of Manchester’s contribution to this research drive involves developing a new type of gene therapy to reprogram cells deep in the eye to sense light. The ultimate aim is to treat all types of blindness caused by damaged or missing rods and cones, the eye’s light receptor cells. These developments have been made possible by advances in gene transfer technology. For instance, the team injects into blind mice the human gene for rhodopsin, a pigment that detects light. This enables other cells that lie deeper within the retina to capture light. By giving these cells the ability to produce their own light-detecting pigment, they can to some extent compensate for the loss of rods and cones.
For more detailed information about our research involving animals, please visit our dedicated website.
*‘Biomedical research’ here refers to ‘Clinical medicine’, ‘Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience’ and ‘Biological sciences’ as defined by the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is an independent assessment of research quality used by UK funding councils to determine the amount of public research funding allocated to each university. The ‘research power’ measure combines quality and volume of research to indicate which institutions are performing the largest amount of world-leading research. Data showing research power by subject for each institution can be downloaded from Times Higher Education.
**The UK Home Office recorded 4.14 million completed procedures in 2015, 1.37 million of which were carried out at the top ten universities. A total of 1.98 million procedures were carried out across all universities in 2015.
***The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency annually collects data on staff employment at UK universities. Staff numbers for the top ten biomedical research universities are as follows:
University of Oxford: 12,595 UCL: 11,980 University of Cambridge: 10,725 University of Manchester: 10,260 University of Edinburgh: 9,705 Imperial College London: 8,140 University of Nottingham: 7,470 King's College London: 7,250 University of Birmingham: 7,200 University of Glasgow: 6,760