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"Animal welfare and ethical considerations are at the heart of our animal research"

Keith Aldred, chair of the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, explains its important work

Scientific research using animals has resulted in enormous benefits for human and animal health and welfare. However, this research may result in pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm for the animals.  So it is necessary to ensure that the benefits justify the harm done. It is a difficult balance to strike, and the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB), as an independent body, is an effective way of achieving this.

Constitution and composition

The AWERB is an advisory body and its role is set out by law. It gives advice to QMUL’s Establishment Licence Holder (ELH) who has the responsibility to ensure QMUL complies with the legislation on animal welfare and ethical review issues and who would not normally go against AWERB advice. The AWERB is not required to report to any other person or group inside or outside QMUL.

At QMUL, the AWERB is made up of:

  • A lay chair

  • At least three members who have a knowledge of animal research through being project licence holders, either currently or in the past

  • The Named Care and Welfare Officer

  • A statistician

  • The Named Veterinary Surgeon

  • The ELH often attends

  • The Home Office Inspector attends occasionally

Of these, the chair, statistician and ELH at QMUL do not have training in biological research or animal welfare. Lay people can bring a broader view to the crucial ethical question of whether the potential benefits of the research are worth the harm to the animals.

Background of the chair

I was Secretary and Registrar of QMUL until 2002, and in that capacity was the ELH and chaired the forerunner of the AWERB. Since retiring I have been lay chair of the AWERB. I have degrees in physics and operational research, not biology, but bring experience and a questioning mind to the subject. The RSPCA run annual seminars for lay members of AWERBs which are useful in keeping up to date with the issues.

Animal welfare and ethical considerations are at the heart of our animal research
Keith Aldred, chair of the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body

How the AWERB works

The AWERB spends most of its time reviewing project licence applications. We invite the applicants to the committee meetings to discuss their proposals so that we can gain an in-depth view of the work and so that the applicant can see that we are giving serious consideration to the review process.

Normally, we will ask the applicant to explain the scientific benefits of the work and the approach she/he has taken to the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement). Depending on the project, areas that we may discuss include the validity of the model as a representation of human disease, statistical techniques and measures to avoid bias in the results, housing and environmental enrichment, and methods of measuring animal suffering. The animal welfare experts will ensure that the most humane techniques are used.

This process happens for all new applications, but not for amendments to existing licences. Reviews of ongoing work are carried out on an ad hoc basis.

We receive reports from the Vet about his or her regular visits to the animal facilities, follow up on any concerns and occasionally visit the animal facilities.

The AWERB disseminates advice on good practice, aims to promote awareness of animal welfare and the 3Rs and encourage a culture of care within QMUL.

Members of AWERB take our responsibilities extremely seriously as we recognise that it is important that animals are used only when absolutely necessary for the purposes of research and that when they are used, they are treated in the best possible way.

Keith Aldred

Chair of AWERB

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