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Why we use animals in research

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

Animal research at Queen Mary 2

Our animals are cared for by a dedicated team of highly trained staff

Animals are used in medical research to study illnesses ranging from heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as rheumatoid arthritis, HIV, Alzheimer’s disease and many other conditions.

All medicines, vaccines, antibiotics and anaesthetics used in the UK have been developed and tested first in animals. As a result, medical research has improved and saved the lives of millions of people worldwide.

In the UK it’s a legal requirement that all medicines must be tested in at least two species of live animals before they are used in humans.

How are animals used to develop new medicines?

Scientists who want to develop new treatments use a number of different methods.

They may start by using a computer to design a new molecule. Alternatively, they may test the thousands of chemicals already available, extract chemicals from natural products, or make human proteins by genetic engineering.

After selecting a molecule and investigating how it works and what it does to cells in a test tube, scientists then need to look at what it does in a real, live body.

Why is a living body needed to carry out research?

A complete living body is very different to the conditions found inside cells in a test tube. For example, a medicine might work well on cells in the laboratory but when it is given to a human, it might be destroyed by the digestive system before it reaches the part of the body that the drug is targeting. Only animal experiments help to uncover this sort of issue.

Next, safety tests are carried out, to see if the medicine causes any unexpected reactions such as a skin rash or organ failure. Animal testing also helps researchers to work out which dose to use in humans.

We only use animals when it is absolutely essential and only if there is no other alternative available.

We only use animals when it is absolutely essential and there is no other alternative available.

How do we ensure the welfare of animals at Queen Mary?

Any research body that wants to use animals in research has to apply to the Government’s Home Office for a licence to do so.

The use of animals in research is governed by UK legislation. The UK has some of the strictest rules governing animal research in the world, and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 balances the needs for research with the welfare of laboratory animals.

The use of animals is closely monitored and carried out according to strict standards and conditions set down by the Home Office, the UK’s licensing authority.

While the use of animals is closely governed by legislation, we also do as much as we can to ensure the welfare of the animals in our care and provide them with a stimulating environment.

Life sciences lab

Studying mice has helped researchers develop treatments to slow the progress of multiple sclerosis.

Examples of how animals are used in research at Queen Mary

Preventing organ failure in trauma patients

A common anti-malarial drug, artesunate, could be used to reduce organ failure following a traumatic injury, after research showed that it is effective in treating severe haemorrhage and blood loss in rats. The drug is safe and cheap and is now going to be tested in clinical trials in patients with organ injury who are admitted to the Major Trauma Centre at The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, UK.

Slowing the advance of multiple sclerosis

Studying mice helps researchers led by Professor David Baker develop treatments to slow the progress of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath – the layer that surrounds the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. There is currently no cure for the disease: people with MS have an average life expectancy of five to ten years shorter than the general population. Researchers at Queen Mary are investigating new drugs to target some of the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.

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