What we do at Lancaster
Lancaster University has a world-class reputation as a centre for excellence in teaching, scholarship and research. We aim to apply our ideas, knowledge, technologies, skills and services regionally, nationally and internationally to the benefit of society, partners and stakeholders.
Health and Disease Research
The University undertakes a wide variety of research aimed at understanding and alleviating human and animal disease and improving community health and wellbeing. The primary research themes at Lancaster are Ageing, Biostatistics and Epidemiology, Cancer, Infectious Diseases, Mental Health and Public Health.
The use of animals in biomedical and veterinary research has and continues to provide significant advances in understanding and alleviating debilitating diseases and conditions. Any proposal to use animals in research must demonstrate stringent experimental design including appropriateness of species and minimized numbers before it will be considered.
Research investigating areas such as Neurodegenerative disease, Cancer biology and Parasitology sometimes requires the use of laboratory animals either to enable advances to be made at a whole organism level, or to provide suitable tissue for further research. Animal models of disease are used to study onset, progression and alleviation in shorter timeframes and in ways that would not be possible with human or higher order animal subjects, and therefore can provide valuable benefits in progressing to new treatments.
Research involving laboratory animals is currently being conducted to investigate:
- Mental illness and dementia including Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease, aimed at developing novel drugs and treatment approaches;
- Cancer biology including understanding predisposition to malignancy, proliferation and treatment of cancer;
- Debilitating parasitic infections including leishmaniasis and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), aimed at developing new control methods and treatments.
Wildlife and Conservation
Wild animal populations are constantly under threat from natural environmental challenges and anthropogenic impacts. A small number of research projects at Lancaster aimed at understanding these risks and helping the development of effective conservation management strategies involve the use of minor procedures on wild animals. These projects must adhere to laws protecting wildlife and the environment in addition to compliance with those involving scientific research on animals. As with laboratory based work justification must be demonstrated and appropriate licensing obtained before these projects can be undertaken.
Why animals are used
Animals are used in research only when there are no alternatives but a need exists to find out about what happens in the whole, living, body and it would not be ethically acceptable to use human subjects. Animals are only used when there are no alternative ways of addressing the question, and researchers are duty bound to adhere to the principles of replacement, refinement and reduction (known as the 3Rs).
Many basic processes are the same in all animals and some animals perform vital functions in a similar way to humans. Animal research enables scientists to understand how healthy bodies work and what happens when humans and animals fall ill.
Animals can also provide models to study disease, since humans and animals share many illnesses. We can learn from them how disease affects the body and associated issues, for example how the immune system responds. This is turn leads to the development of potential treatments and medicines.
Data is essential in the development of new therapies, and some of this must come from animal studies. Once medicines have been created, they are generally tested in vitro using animal and/or human tissue, but legally and ethically they must also be tested in a suitable animal model before any clinical trial on humans can start.
Of course, in addition to benefitting human health, animal research leads to better understanding of medical disorders that affect animals themselves, and enables the development of veterinary treatments for them.
The UK law
Research on living animals is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment Regulations 2012 (S12012/3039) through a stringent licensing system, operated by the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit (https://www.gov.uk/research-and-testing-using- animals). This controls what can be done, where and by whom. The law also imposes regulations on the housing, welfare, care and health of all animals used in science. Compliance is monitored closely by the University and also by the Home Office whose inspectors make regular (frequently unannounced) visits.
In order for research, involving regulated procedures on animals to be performed, three separate types of licence from the Home Office Animals in Science Regulation Unit need to be in place:
- an Establishment Licence for the place where the work is done, listing defined areas within the University where animals can be housed and used and facilitating regulated work to be carried out in the field or at other remote sites;
- a Project Licence for each research project, specifying the programme of work and why animals are required and stating a maximum number of animals that will be used over the duration of the project;
- a Personal Licence for each suitably trained researcher, describing the types of techniques that can be performed on particular animal species.
The Establishment Licence is held by a senior member of the University’s management team, who is required to appoint ‘named persons’ to act on his or her behalf, such as the Named Veterinary Surgeon and Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers. These individuals help to ensure that all our animals remain healthy and receive the best possible care.
Permission to carry out regulated procedures under a specific project by a research group is granted by the Home Office only if the potential benefits to humankind or other animals are judged to outweigh any likely animal suffering. Ethical approval must also have been granted by the licensed establishment.
The law requires applicants for a personal licence to have undertaken an accredited training course and, once the licence is granted, they must undergo further practical training under supervision. This ensures that animals are handled carefully and procedures are carried out competently, thereby causing them least harm.
Animal Health and Welfare
All animals held by the University for research purposes are cared for and monitored by trained and dedicated animal technicians in additional to husbandry undertaken by the researchers. These technicians work independently of the research itself thereby avoiding conflicts of interest and allowing for a culture of care and reporting of any causes for concern over animal health and welfare at the earliest opportunity. Animal technicians are directly involved in day to day activities and developments so that best practice can be developed at conceptual stages of a project before any work commences.
The University expects the highest standards in the conduct of all research undertaken in its name and on its premises using its facilities, as set out in its Research Ethics and Research Governance at Lancaster Code of Practice and Procedures, and in compliance with the UUK Concordat to support research integrity
In this, the University recognises its obligations to the wider research community, to the funders of research and to society as a whole.
The University has effective measures in place to ensure that high standards of animal care, welfare and accommodation are maintained, and that all persons working with animals receive appropriate supervision and training. We believe that first-rate research calls for first-rate animal welfare.
When researchers publish their results, they do so in accordance with the NC3Rs’ ARRIVE Guidelines (http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/arrive-guidelines), to ensure that the data from animal studies can be fully evaluated and made full use of by others in the scientific community.
Researchers at Lancaster are committed to the 3Rs (http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/):
- the replacement of animals with alternative methods wherever possible;
- the use of minimum numbers of animals required to meet the study objectives;
- the refinement of procedures so as to maximise animal welfare.
The purpose is to make certain that the research carried out on animals is conducted humanely, and only when there is no alternative.
All members of the University are required to adhere to its Research Ethics and Research Governance Code of Practice, the purpose of which is to establish an ethical framework for the conduct of academic activity. The use of animals has to be fully justified and the core value is one of avoiding unnecessary harm. The University supports the principle of the 3Rs – that those involved in animal research should aim at replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals for research purposes.
All research on animals or their tissues is dealt with by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body in accordance with the requirements of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (Amended 2012). Prior to any work being conducted, each project must have undergone a rigorous and objective review by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, whose membership includes lay persons, scientists and those with veterinary and animal care expertise.
Facts and figures
Project licence holders are required by law to submit a detailed record of their animal usage. These data are incorporated into the statistical report published annually by the Home Office (https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/statistics-of-scientific- procedures-on-living-animals).
In 2017, the total number of procedures carried out was 1403, involving the following species and ASPA severity limits:
Mice: 973 procedures where 2 were classified as ‘severe’, 211 were classified as ‘moderate’, 398 classified ‘mild’, 157 ‘subthreshold’ and 205 ‘non-recovery’. 661 of these were with genetically altered animals.
Wild birds: 355 procedures classified as ‘mild severity’ where all animals were sampled in the field and released back to the wild following assessment of full recovery.
Xenopus frogs: 75 procedures classified as ‘mild’ severity.
Ecological and behavioural studies
A small number of projects at Lancaster involve research on animals that does not come under the jurisdiction of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (Amended 2012). This is because the studies are observational and do not involve performing any regulated procedures; for example, these may be to gain insight into the behaviour of animals in the wild, their interaction with humans or to aid the conservation of the species. This type of work must still comply fully with other relevant statutory legislation including The Animal Welfare Act, The Wildlife and Countryside Act and The Wild Mammals (Protection) Act.
This research is also subjected to ethical review by the University’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body to ensure that the reasons for carrying out the science are well thought through and there is no likelihood of harm or distress being caused to the animals.