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Animal research FAQs

There are a lot of questions asked about the use of animals in research – and a lot of misconceptions. Here are our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

Why are medicines tested on animals?

In the UK all new medicines have to be tested on at least two species of animals before they are given to humans. This is to ensure that they are safe and effective.

Animals are very different to people – how will the research findings be valid?

There are obvious differences between humans and animals such as mice. However, their biology and the way their bodies work are remarkably similar. For instance, we have the same organs and similar circulatory, nervous and hormonal systems.

Animals develop many of the same diseases and conditions as humans. For example, Queen Mary scientists discovered a genetic mutation that increases drug-seeking behaviour in zebra fish; variations in this gene in humans are associated with smoking and increased difficulty in giving up. This finding opens the possibility of developing drugs that target the genetic mutation to help treat addiction in humans.

How has animal research contributed to human health?

Almost every major medical advance has depended on research first conducted in animals. Examples include antibiotics, anaesthetics, insulin for diabetes, organ transplants and hip replacements, to name a few.

Can research be carried out using computer modelling or cells in test tubes in the lab instead?

Scientists do use computer modelling and laboratory experiments to research disease processes and to develop and test drugs where possible. You can find out more about the work Queen Mary researchers do to reduce the number of animals we use in research.

However, at some point they have to look at what happens in a real live body because conditions there can be very different to those found in cells in a test tube.

For example, although a drug may work well on cells in the test tube, it might be destroyed by the digestive system before it reaches the part of the body that the drug is targeting. Or a new drug might cause unexpected side effects, such as a skin rash, breathing problems or organ failure. Animal testing also helps researchers to work out the size of dose to use in human clinical trials.

Are cosmetics tested on animals?

Testing cosmetic products on animals was banned in the UK 1998 and across the EU in 2013.

Are household products tested on animals?

The UK banned the testing of household products on animals in 2015. The ban covers all ‘finished’ products, including detergents, polishes, cleaning and laundry products, air fresheners, deodorants, paints and other decorating materials.

What animals are used for research at Queen Mary?

Research at Queen Mary involves mice, rats and naked mole-rats. Our researchers also study zebrafish, fruit flies and bees.

How does Queen Mary minimise any suffering experienced by the animals?

Our researchers and dedicated animal technicians are well trained to ensure that any pain that might be caused in procedures is minimised.

They also ensure that the animals are well looked after and are kept in clean, airy conditions with plenty of room to move around. A vet is on call 24 hours a day to give advice to researchers and animal technicians at any time.

Queen Mary abides by strict UK regulations that ensure animals do not suffer unnecessarily: anaesthesia and analgesics are used during and after surgery and at any other time when pain may need to be alleviated.

What happens to the animals at the end of the research?

At the end of a study, the animals involved are humanely killed. This is so that they can investigate what has happened inside their body and gain information that is not obtainable in other ways, such as with the use of scans.

When an animal has to be killed, it is carried out painlessly and without distress to the animal, in accordance with strict guidance set out in UK legislation (the UK’s amended Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986) and under the guiding principles of EU Directive 2010/63.

What do the 3Rs stand for?

The 3Rs stand for ‘reduce, refine and replace’ and underpin the nationally recognised framework for humane animal research. Queen Mary is working to:

  • replace the use of animals with non-animal alternatives whenever possible
  • reduce the number of animals used in research, by finding ways to obtain more information from smaller numbers of animals
  • refine research methods and practices so as to alleviate or minimise any pain, suffering or distress that might be caused. We also work to reduce the numbers of procedures an animal undergoes. ‘Refinement’ also includes improving animal welfare by, for example, providing animals with appropriate housing.

You may also be interested in...

How we minimise the use of animals in our research

Learn more about Queen Mary's dedication to replace, refine and reduce the number of animals we use in research.

Why we use animals in our research

We only use animals in research when it's absolutely essential and there's no other alternative.

How we care for our animals

We are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. Learn more about how we care for our animals.

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