UK scientists on latest animal research statistics

Medical experiments in the United Kingdom involving animals has shown its largest rise since modern records began, according to new government figures.

Here’s a BBC news report on the publication of the statistics.

Nearly 3.7m experiments were performed on animals last year, a rise of 454,000 or 14% on the previous year. The UK Science Media Centre rounded up reaction from UK-based scientists:

Simon Festing, executive director of Understanding Animal Research, said:

“The most important message from the animal procedures figures for 2008 is that we are doing more and better research to find solutions to serious diseases. This is a continuation of the trend which saw funding of biomedical research increase in real terms by over 50% in the decade to 2006, while animal procedures increased by just 12.5% over the same period.

“The three Rs are central to animal research, but are not just about reducing numbers. Improving animal welfare by refining procedures and replacing higher animals with lower animals are also important. Using more animals does not mean more suffering. Many mice and fish are only used to breed better models of serious illnesses such as cancer or Alzheimers’, or to replace higher animals such as monkeys or dogs.”

Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive of the NC3Rs, said:

“The increased animal use in 2008 does not mean that efforts to advance the 3Rs are failing. Rather, it reflects new research trends, increased investment, and changes in regulatory requirements. Much is being achieved in implementing the 3Rs but the statistics are not designed to show this, because they focus on animal use rather than replacement or reduction. For every area where a non-animal method is developed, there may be many more where science is driving an increase in animal use. However, the rise in numbers should be a call to all scientists to re-focus efforts to try and stem this increase whilst maintaining progress in science and innovation.”

An ABPI spokesperson said:

“The rise in the overall Home Office figures is in large part down to the success of the scientific community working in the UK. Because the UK is recognised as among the best in the world, investment within academia and within industry is going up.

“In 2006, spending on R&D was just under £4bn and by 2007 that figure had risen by 14.7 per cent to around £4.5bn. This is more than ever before. Consequently, there is a related rise in animal research, but the rate is not like-for-like – it is smaller due to all the work being carried out to reduce the need for animal research.

“The advance of science has led to new classes of medicines which target disease with much greater accuracy. Most research is still done traditionally in test tubes, but this accuracy means new medicines have to be tested on animals which are much closer to humans to show that they work and they are safe.

“This is the reason why the number of non-human primates has risen this year and is likely to rise next year. This work will eventually lead to the discovery of new medicines which will treat unmet medical need in fields like cancer, arthritis, pain relief and neurodegenerative disease.

“The majority of animals used in research are mice (66 per cent), fish (17 per cent) and rats (ten per cent). Dogs, cats, horses and non-human primates combined are less than one per cent and everyone involved in research – be it to save lives or protect the environment – is working to reduce the figure where this is possible.”

Lord Drayson, Science and Innovation Minister, said:

“Britain has a high reputation for its standards of regulating research which uses animals. This work, described in today’s report from the Home Office, is critical to the development of new medicines and increasing the level of understanding of diseases.

“We are a world leader in medical advances and the Government is proud of the pioneering work of our scientists and researchers.

“We are committed to supporting this work through the Science Budget and through our support for the NC3Rs which works with scientists to refine, reduce and wherever possible replace the use of animals in research.”