Top Ten Organisations for Animal Research Announced
- Ten organisations account for nearly half of all animal research in Great Britain
- All ten organisations have committed to open communications around animal research
- 42 UK organisations have shared their own 2019 animal research statistics
Understanding Animal Research (UAR), an organisation that promotes open communications about animal research, has today released a list of the ten organisations in Great Britain that carry out the highest number of animal procedures – those used in medical, veterinary and scientific research. These statistics are freely available on the organisations’ websites as part of their ongoing commitment to transparency and openness around the use of animals in research.
The figures coincide with the publication of the national Home Office statistics for animals used in research in 2019.
They show that these ten organisations carried out 1.66 million procedures, 48.7% or nearly half of the 3.40 million procedures carried out in Great Britain in 2019*. More than 99% of these 1.66 million procedures were carried out on rodents or fish.
The ten organisations are listed below alongside the total number of procedures that they carried out in 2019. Each organisation’s name links to its animal research webpage, which includes more detailed statistics. This is the fifth consecutive year organisations have come together to publicise their collective numbers and examples of their research.
|Organisation||Number of Procedures|
|The Francis Crick Institute||258,557|
|Medical Research Council||241,577|
|University of Oxford||229,163|
|University of Edinburgh||198,517|
|King’s College London||131,999**|
|University of Glasgow||118,139|
|University of Cambridge||114,640|
|University of Manchester||97,506|
|Imperial College London||80,799|
To accompany the Top Ten list, UAR has also produced a list (see appendix) of 42 organisations in the UK that have shared their own statistics on the animal research they carried out in 2019.
All organisations 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 optimising the experience of the animals to improve animal welfare. However, as institutions expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.
All organisations listed 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. More than 120 organisations have signed the Concordat including UK universities, medical research charities, research funders,learned societies and commercial research organisations.
Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, which developed the Concordat on Openness, said:
“Animal research is essential for the development of new drugs and vaccines for diseases like cancer, dementia, and COVID-19. Over the last six months we have witnessed researchers from across the world work tirelessly to develop new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, which it is hoped can prevent thousands of further deaths. Existing drugs, developed using animals, have also been found to be effective against the virus: Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that was initially developed using monkeys to treat Ebola, is being used to treat severe cases of COVID-19, and dexamethasone, a steroid originally developed using animal research to treat rheumatoid arthritis, has been found to save the lives of some patients on ventilators. Research involving commonly used animals like rodents, and more unusual animals like llamas, alpacas, bats, and hamsters has also yielded important information on how COVID-19 can be treated.”
Jan-Bas Prins, director of the Crick’s Biological Research Facility, said:
“At the Crick our researchers are working hard to understand a wide range of devastating diseases. While we use alternatives to animal research wherever possible, these diseases are complex, frequently interacting with and affecting multiple parts of the body. Research into what causes different diseases and finding new ways to prevent and treat them often requires us to work with animals.”
Frances Rawle, Director of Policy, Ethics and Governance at the Medical Research Council, said:
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of research using animals in understanding the biology of diseases and developing new treatments and vaccines. The MRC is committed to ensuring that this research is carried out to the highest possible levels of animal welfare and to replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research wherever possible.”
Prof Gary Stephens, from the University of Reading, said:
“The search is on for effective treatments to use to treat COVID-19. Given the lengthy development process for vaccines, one major immediate priority is the development of selective antibodies that can neutralise the SARS-CoV-2 virus. A particularly exciting new advance is the recent development of “nanobody” technology.
“Nanobodies that can be engineered from smaller, more stable types of antibody from the immune systems of camelid species – such as llamas, alpacas and camels. Due to their smaller size, they are more able to target relevant proteins and stop the virus from attaching to a host and spreading.
“At the University of Reading, we are currently working with UK scientists to generate nanobodies in our llama herd that will bind to proteins in the SARS-CoV-2 virus including the “spike” protein that enables the virus to enter human cells. There are already promising findings that suggest that these nanobodies bind to the coronavirus’ proteins at different sites and neutralise the virus even more effectively.”
Professor Simon Graham, from the Pirbright Institute, said:
“Our pig studies have provided vital information about the type of immune response induced by the University of Oxford’s ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine. We demonstrated that two doses of vaccine provide a greater antibody response than a single dose in pigs, which could help inform how many doses are required in order to protect people from COVID-19. Pigs and humans share similarities in their physiology and immune systems, which can give us insights that are crucial for supporting the research effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Notes to Editors
For further information, please contact Hannah Hobson at Understanding Animal Research.
T: 07759235176, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
A list of recent animal research case studies from contributing organisations can be found below.
Further information on the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK can be found here: https://concordatopenness.org.uk
These figures refer to procedures using animals for medical, veterinary or scientific research, as licensed by the Home Office. The use of animals to test tobacco products was banned in the UK in 1997 and it has been illegal to use animals to test cosmetic products in this country since 1998. A policy ban on household product testing using animals was introduced in 2010. Since 2013, it has been illegal to sell or import cosmetics anywhere in the EU where the finished product or its ingredients have been tested on animals.
*The Home Office recorded 3.40 million completed procedures in 2019, 1.66million of which were carried out at these organisations.
**King’s College London’s procedure numbers are an estimate based on the number of animals they used in 2019.
Full table of statistics from top ten organisations:
|Organisation||Total Procedures (2019)||Mice||Rats||Fish||Birds||Dogs||Non-Human Primates||Other|
|The Francis Crick Institute||258,557||233,760||0||24,204||0||0||0||395|
|Medical Research Council||241,577||196,794||0||44,728||0||0||55||0|
|University of Oxford||229,163||222,206||2,197||4,593||7||0||8||152|
|University of Edinburgh||198,517||147,893||7,007||36,032||5,063||4||0||2,518|
|King’s College London**||131,999||94,416||3,617||33,611||0||0||17||338|
|University of Glasgow||118,139||112,491||1,504||2,807||749||0||0||588|
|University of Cambridge||114,640||99,351||2,137||12,456||20||0||43||633|
|University of Manchester||97,506||80,908||3,984||11,733||0||0||0||881|
|Imperial College London||80,799||70,425||3,249||6,037||713||0||0||375|
All numbers represent completed procedures on animals in 2019.The number of procedures carried out using animals will be slightly higher than the number of animals used, as a small number of animals may be used in more than one procedure.
List of UK organisations that have shared their 2019 animal research statistics:
The Francis Crick Institute
Antibiotics weaken flu defences in the lung
Antibiotics can leave the lung vulnerable to flu viruses, leading to significantly worse infections and symptoms, finds a new study in mice led by the Francis Crick Institute.
The research discovered that signals from gut bacteria help to maintain a first line of defence in the lining of the lung. When mice with healthy gut bacteria were infected with the flu, around 80% of them survived. However, only a third survived if they were given antibiotics before being infected.
The study found that type I interferon signalling, which is known to regulate immune responses, was key to early defence. Among the genes switched on by interferon is a mouse gene, Mx1, which is the equivalent of the human MxA gene. This antiviral gene produces proteins that can interfere with influenza virus replication. Although often studied in immune cells, the researchers found that microbiota-driven interferon signals also keep antiviralgenes in the lung lining active, preventing the virus from gaining a foothold.
To test whether the protective effect was related to gut bacteria rather than local processes in the lung, the researchers treated mice with antibiotics and then repopulated their gut bacteria through faecal transplant. This restored interferon signalling and associated flu resistance, suggesting that gut bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining defences.
Medical Research Council
COVID-19 breakthroughs underpinned by animal studies
Research involving animals, built on many years of experience studying infectious diseases and advances gained from the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement of animals in research, is playing a vital role in understanding COVID-19. It is helping UK scientists lead the way in developing vaccines and treatments.
For example, Professor Robin Shattock and his team from Imperial College London are currently working to create a viable vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, using a new technology they have developed that can potentially produce vaccines much faster than conventional methods. With MRC funding, the team has successfully generated a novel SARS-Cov-2 vaccine candidate a mere two weeks after receiving the genetic sequence of the virus. Animal experiments began in early February, with encouraging early results in mice. After testing their vaccine in monkeys in pre-clinical animal studies which showed promising results, the team have now moved on to Phase 1 trials.
Professor Sarah Gilbert and her team at the University of Oxford are also spearheading a vaccine trial in which they are utilising a specific coronavirus protein, known as the Spike protein, from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The team has tested this vaccine in animal trials in ferrets and non-human primates at the Public Health England (PHE) laboratories, and has also collaborated with researchers at the BBSRC funded Pirbright Institute to study the effect of this vaccine in pigs. The Oxford trial has already seen its first participants injected in late April, with larger Phase II and III trials that began in May with expected completion in September.
Animals are also key for evaluating the safety and efficacy of any new treatments when they are first developed. Once the safety and efficacy has been established, a drug can sometimes be repurposed to treat another disease without requiring further animal testing. This is true of the drug dexamethasone, a steroid first developed using animal testing in the late 1950s for treating rheumatoid arthritis; the RECOVERY trial, funded by the MRC, has now shown this cheap and widely available drug is a lifesaving treatment for COVID-19 patients, potentially saving the lives of 1 in every 7 patients on ventilators.
Mice have also been used for studying COVID-19, for example specially bred mice are being used by Professor Xiao-Ning Xu at Imperial College London, who has MRC funding to test a new monoclonal antibody treatment that may be effective against different types of coronaviruses including SARS-CoV-2. Professor Xu will also test these monoclonal antibodies in monkeys at the UK’s National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, because human antibodies are more likely to interact with other components of the immune system in species that are closely related to us, compared to mice.
The MRC also supports national animal facilities (including the MRC Centre for Macaques and the Mary Lyon Centre, part of the MRC Harwell Institute). These animal facilities are both involved in COVID-19 research; for example the Mary Lyon Centre is involved in the Global Mouse Models for COVID-19 Consortium (GMMCC), a newly formed group of mouse centres and repositories that have come together to form a consortium to underpin global research into SARS-CoV-2. By providing coordinated access to reliable and useful animal models for studying SARS-CoV-2, the MRC’s national animal facilities are highlighting the importance of having sufficient breeding facilities as essential national infrastructure.
The UK’s extensive scientific expertise is ideally positioned to lead the way in responding to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This expertise is only possible because of the decades of knowledge gained from funding excellent discovery science, and the advances gained from research involving animals, while also being committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement.
University of Edinburgh
Cell research offers diabetes treatment hope
A new cell treatment to enhance islet transplantation could help maintain healthy blood sugar levels in Type 1 diabetes without the need for multiple transplants of insulin producing cells or regular insulin injections, research suggests.
In Type 1 diabetes the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed. Insulin injections maintain health but blood glucose levels can be difficult to control. Currently in the UK it is estimated that approximately 400,000 people have type 1 diabetes.
The current recommendation for people with type 1 diabetes who have lost awareness of low blood glucose levels is the transplantation of islets – the insulin producing part of the pancreas.
A study in mice found that transplanting a combination of islets with connective tissue cells found in umbilical cords – known as stromal cells – could potentially reduce the number of pancreases required for the procedure. Mice that received the islet-stromal cell combination were found to have better control of blood glucose and less evidence of rejection of islets after seven weeks, compared to those that received islets alone.
In humans, more than two donor pancreases, which are scarce, are often needed because islets can be rejected and are slow to form new blood supplies.Therefore, multiple islet transplantations and anti-rejection medication are required to control blood sugar levels in people with Type 1 diabetes. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh hope their findings could be a way of overcoming these issues.
The researchers found that islets combined with stromal cells successfully returned normal blood glucose levels just three days after transplantation.
More effective stem cell transplant method could aid blood cancer patients
Researchers at UCL have developed a new way to make blood stem cells present in the umbilical cord ‘more transplantable’, a finding in mice which could improve the treatment of a wide range of blood diseases in children and adults.
Blood stem cells, also known as haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), generate every type of cell in the blood (red cells, white cells and platelets), and are responsible for maintaining blood production throughout life.
When treating certain cancers and inherited blood disorders, it is sometimes necessary to replace the bone marrow by allogeneic stem cell transplantation – which involves using stem cells from a healthy donor.
The umbilical cord is a useful source of blood stem cells, and cord blood transplants lead to fewer long-term immune complications than bone marrow transplants. Although umbilical cord transplants have been used in young children for the last 30 years, most cord blood units contain insufficient HSCs to be suitable for older children and adults, and 30% of all units contain too few even for the youngest children, and go to waste.
The study highlights how a protein called NOV/CCN3 can be used to rapidly increase the number of HSCs in single umbilical cord blood units – potentially opening the door to units that would otherwise be discarded being made available for patients of all ages.
The researchers say that trying to increase the actual number of hematopoietic stem cells in umbilical cord blood is both expensive and challenging. Not all HSCs present in a cord blood unit can or will transplant, indicating that cord blood units have untapped transplantation potential.
By studying cell cultures in the lab and trialling stem cell transplants in mice, the UCL Cancer Institute research team found that umbilical cord blood units exposed to highly purified NOV showed significantly more transplantation potential than regular samples. The frequency of functional HSCs in the sample increased six-fold.
For the next stage, the scientists will take their research into a clinical setting to explore how it could benefit patients with blood cancers and other blood disorders.
King’s College London
Mice reveal 38 new genes involved in hearing loss
New research from King’s College London and Wellcome Sanger Institute has revealed multiple new genes involved in hearing loss.
Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience carried out a large-scale screen of 1,211 mice with genetic mutations, identifying 38 genes that had not previously been suspected to be involved in hearing. The new genes identified reveal metabolic pathways and regulatory processes involved in hearing and provide a rich source of therapeutic targets for the restoration of hearing.
Progressive hearing loss with age is extremely common in the population, leading to difficulties in understanding speech, increased social isolation and associated depression. It has significant heritability, but so far very little is known about the molecular pathways leading to adult-onset hearing loss, hampering the development of treatments.
Professor Karen Steel, at the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases, and colleagues took a genetic approach to identifying new molecules involved in hearing loss by screening a large cohort of newly generated mouse mutants using a sensitive electrophysiological test, the auditory brainstem response.
Some of these genes reveal molecular pathways that may be useful targets for drug development. Eleven were found to be significantly associated with auditory function in the human population, and one gene, SPNS2, was associated with childhood deafness, emphasizing the value of the mouse for identifying genes and mechanisms underlying complex processes such as hearing.
Further analysis of the genes identified and the varied pathological mechanisms within the ear resulting from the mutations suggests that hearing loss is an extremely heterogeneous disorder and may involve as many as 1,000 genes. According to the authors, the findings suggest that therapies may need to be directed at common molecular pathways involved in deafness rather than individual genes or mutations.
University of Glasgow
For us to be able to stop cancer recurrence and spread, we need excellent predictive models that recapitulate human cancer to allow us to be able to work out the significance of targeting different cells in the tumour microenvironment.
In 2019, Professor Owen Sansom’s team at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and University of Glasgow developed for the first time novel mouse models of colorectal cancer that are reminiscent of the worst prognostic subtypes of the disease. This was a significant unmet need in the colorectal cancer field. Importantly, work is now underway to translate this clinically for both colon and rectal cancer within the Colorectal Cancer Accelerator platform funded by CancerResearch UK and led from Glasgow by Professor Sansom.
Overall, animal work in this study has allowed a significant scientific advance, which could be exploited clinically, and established mouse models that will allow the international research community to study the biology of advanced cancer in much greater depth.
University of Cambridge
Exercise in pregnancy improves health of obese mothers by restoring their tissues, mouse study finds.
Exercise is known to improve how the body manages blood sugar levels and thereby reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome in non-pregnant women. It also has positive effects prior to and during pregnancy, with beneficial outcomes for both mother and her child, preventing excessive gestational weight gain and the development of gestational diabetes, and the need for insulin use in women who have already developed gestational diabetes. However, little is known about the changes that exercise causes to the tissues of obese pregnant mothers.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge fed mice a sugary, high fat diet such that they become obese and then the obese mice were exercised. The mice exercised on a treadmill for 20 minutes a day for at least a week before their pregnancy and then for 12.5 minutes a day until day 17 of the pregnancy (pregnancy lasts for around 20 days in mice).
Mice are a useful model for studying human disease as their biology and physiology have a number of important characteristics in common with those of humans, including showing metabolic changes with obesity/obesity-causing diets and in the female body during pregnancy.
The researchers found that the beneficial effects on metabolic health in obese mothers related to changes in how molecules and cells communicate in maternal tissues during pregnancy.
The key organs of the mother that were affected by exercise were:
- white adipose tissue – the fatty tissue that stores lipids and can be found in different parts around the body, including beneath the skin and around internal organs;
- skeletal muscle – muscle tissue that uses glucose and fats for contraction and movement;
- the liver – the organ that stores, as well as synthesises lipids and glucose.
The researchers say the findings reinforce the importance of an active lifestyle when planning pregnancy. In the UK, more than a half of all women of reproductive age and almost a third of pregnant women are overweight or obese. This is particularly concerning, as being overweight or obese during pregnancy increases the risk of complications in the mother, such as gestational diabetes, and predisposes both her and her infant to develop metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes in the years after pregnancy.
University of Manchester
Researchers discover when it’s good to get the blues
Contrary to common belief, blue light may not be as disruptive to our sleep patterns as originally thought – according to University of Manchester scientists.According to the team, using dim, cooler, lights in the evening and bright warmer lights in the day may be more beneficial to our health.
Twilight is both dimmer and bluer than daylight, they say, and the body clock uses both of those features to determine the appropriate times to be asleep and awake.Current technologies designed to limit our evening exposure to blue light, for example by changing the screen colour on mobile devices, may therefore send us mixed messages, they argue.This is because the small changes in brightness they produce are accompanied by colours that more resemble day.
The research, which was carried out on mice, used specially designed lighting that allowed the team to adjust colour without changing brightness.That showed blue colours produced weaker effects on the mouse body clock than equally bright yellow colours.The findings, say the team, have important implications for the design of lighting and visual displays intended to ensure healthy patterns of sleep and alertness.
The body clock uses a specialised light sensitive protein in the eye to measure brightness, called melanopsin, which is better at detecting shorter wavelength photons.
This is why, say the team, researchers originally suggested blue light might have a stronger effect.However, our perception of colour comes from the retinal cone cells and the new research shows that the blue colour signals they supply reduce the impact on light on the clock.
Imperial College London
Drug cocktail holds promise for spinal injuries
Scientists have discovered a combination of two commonly available drugs that could help the body heal spinal fractures.
The early-stage research in rats, by a group of scientists led by Imperial College London, revealed two existing medications can boost the body’s own repair machinery, by triggering the release of stem cells from the bone marrow.
The team say the two drugs (currently used for bone marrow transplants and bladder control) could be used for different types of bone fractures, including to the spine, hip and leg, to aid healing after surgery or fractures.
When a person has a disease or an injury, the bone marrow (the spongy tissue within bone) mobilises different types of stem cells to help repair and regenerate tissue.
The new research suggests it may be possible to boost the body’s ability to repair itself and speed repair, by using new drug combinations to put the bone marrow into a state of ‘red alert’ and send specific kinds of stem cells into action. The researchers used drugs to trigger the bone marrow of healthy rats to release mesenchymal stem cells, a type of adult stem cell that can turn into bone and help repair bone fractures.The two treatments used in the research were a CXCR4 antagonist, used for bone marrow transplants, and a beta-3 adrenergic agonist, that is used for bladder control.
The rats were given a single treatment with the two drugs, which triggered enhanced binding of calcium to the site of bone injury, speeding bone formation and healing.
One of the drugs used in the study was found to trigger fat cells in the bone marrow to release endocannabinoids, which suggests they may have a role in mobilising the stem cells and thereby promoting healing. However, the researchers add that phytocannabinoids (such as cannabis) would not have the same effect, as they act on the brain rather than the bone marrow.