Dr Jordi Lopez-Tremoleda is Queen Mary’s Named Veterinary Surgeon and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Laboratory Animals. In this staff profile, he talks about how animals are involved in research at Queen Mary, ways in which his team ensure that the animals receive the best care possible, and projects aimed at reducing, refining and replacing the use of animals in research.
I have been at Queen Mary for over 7 years now, hard to tell as time has gone fast. I guess this is good…although possibly means I may have few more grey hairs now!
I qualified as a veterinarian in Barcelona, and undertook my initial training in the UK, working with horses at Liverpool University and the University of Cambridge. Most of this was working as a stud veterinarian with racehorses, and included working in Newmarket, and in Australia during various breeding seasons. Then I started a research career in the field of reproductive biology, undertaking a PhD at Utrecht University. I have fantastic memories from my time in Utrecht, even managed to learn some Dutch!
I ended up moving to Edinburgh’s MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine to work on human stem cell therapies. After 5 years in bonnie Scotland, I coordinated preclinical imaging work at Imperial College and then moved to Queen Mary’s Centre for Trauma Sciences.
The Named Veterinary Surgeon is a role set up under the UK law and required for any establishment undertaking animal research. I am responsible for monitoring and providing advice on the health, welfare and treatment of animals used here, in accordance with UK regulations, as well as promoting best practice in our animal studies including the principles of the ‘3Rs’ (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animals in research).
Unfortunately, it’s currently impossible to avoid using animals for some aspects of medical research. For example, it is a legal requirement for medicines used in the UK to have been tested first in animals. But we recognise that the use of animals in research remains a critical compromise. We therefore only use animals in research when it is absolutely essential and there is no alternative available.
The use of animals in Queen Mary research includes rodents, birds and zebrafish, which has helped our staff to make incredible progress in advancing research in cancer, heart disease, neuroscience and inflammation, including developing new treatments for patients.
Our researchers are also a driving force in the reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research, such as the development of non-animal alternatives including the national Organ-on-a-Chip Technologies Network.
Busy, and never dull as we have a large variety of studies and species. My work is supported by our expert team of animal technicians and colleagues in Biological Services who take care of the daily monitoring of all our animals, ensuring the best animal care. Any health/welfare issues are flagged up to me directly so that we can act immediately.
I travel between our different units, undertaking visits and following up any health and welfare issues.
I also meet with researchers to discuss their work, including refinement, animal project licences or the health/biosafety considerations of animal transport.
Training and education is also an important part of my role and I’m a member of our Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body. I also hold an academic post, so teaching and research keeps me busy.
Meeting people from varied professional backgrounds and levels of seniority to promote awareness on the care and welfare of our animals. This is particularly enriching in the diverse and multicultural environment at Queen Mary, especially when meeting researchers with different cultures and beliefs. Some of these discussions can be challenging but very rewarding. Another great value is my colleagues in Biological Services - their commitment to animal welfare is a major driver of our work.
Animal research in the UK is governed by some of the strictest laws in the world, and regulated by the Home Office. At Queen Mary, our policy is to ensure that all animal welfare complies with the provisions set out by the law.
Researchers interested in using animals in their work must hold a Project Licence approved by UK regulators and our institutional Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB).
The AWERB meets monthly to review all project licence applications made by our researchers. It comprises researchers (including external and independent researchers), experts in animal welfare, and lay members, and we all scrutinise these applications very carefully to suggest changes in the procedures that will minimise the impact on our animals.
In addition, any individual undertaking animal research must hold a personal licence, following specific training in animal welfare and husbandry.
This regulated system works well and allows for better transparency and communication on animal research, and ensuring robust compliance and commitment to animal care and welfare.
All staff involved in animal research take the responsibility to ensure that any distress or temporary harm in our animals is minimised, including with the appropriate use of pain relief and anaesthetics, and that their welfare is protected.
The Biological Services team are also a major driver in ensuring the best care of our animals. Animal technicians are regularly checking on each and every one of our animals, and ensuring that they have as stimulating an environment as possible.
Their empathy for the animals under their care and their commitment to ensure the wellbeing of the animals is outstanding. For example, our animal technicians have been supporting the daily care and monitoring of our experimental animals during lockdown, really highlighting their professional and personal commitment.
I always wanted to be a journalist. But in a way, communication and public engagement remains a major part of my current job.
I am a 100% born and bred Mediterranean, so I miss being close to the sea and being able to swim and sail regularly. I do take any opportunity to swim outdoors – and despite many years in the UK, still not totally adapted to the cold water. Escaping to the countryside, if possible the highlands, is the best! And of course, my roots at the Costa Brava in Catalunya.
Michelle Obama, David Attenborough, Michael Palin, Melinda Gates, Frida Kahlo and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
• Find out more about animal research at Queen Mary.