Frequently asked questions about the use of animals in research
Why are animals used in research?
Animals are needed in research because of the complexity of how the body works. There are increasing numbers of alternative approaches that are reducing animal use, but there are limitations. Animal research has been a core part of developing treatments for diseases such as asthma, epilepsy, cancer and diabetes.
Only a small proportion of our research involves animals. The law requires that animals are only used when alternatives - such as cell cultures or computer modelling – are not available. We are committed to implementing the 3Rs - refinement, replacement and reduction - in all of our research involving animals. Some of our research is also focused on finding alternatives.
Where required we use animals in a wide variety of medical and veterinary research. In addition, we undertake fundamental biological research to increase our understanding of the normal functioning of the body. The use of animals is a vital part of this research.
What treatments have been developed through the use of animals at the University of Edinburgh?
Animal research has played an essential role in the majority of medical breakthroughs over the past decade. Animals are used to study complex diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Animals were fundamental to the University’s discovery of ovarian cryopreservation, which gives women who have had cancer the opportunity to have children after treatment. This breakthrough involves the removal and cryopreservation of ovarian tissue from women who have cancer. After the cancer treatment has finished, the ovarian tissue can be re-implanted and fertility restored.
Researchers at Edinburgh have given hope to families with children who suffer from Rett syndrome, a severe autistic spectrum disorder affecting 1 in 10,000 girls. Rett syndrome is a regressive disease causing a loss of speech and movement with a delayed onset. Scientists created a mouse model with the most common gene mutation associated with the disorder, which is now being used in treatment trials across the world.
Our animal research news pages contain more examples of medical advancements and new treatments that we have achieved through the use of animal research.
What types of animals are used in research?
We mainly use rodents - predominately mice and rats - and zebrafish in our research. We also use small numbers of farm animals and poultry. As part of our annual statistics report, we publish information on the number of procedures carried out and the types of animals used.
Do animals benefit from research?
Yes, as well as allowing the advancement of medical knowledge and the development of treatments for people, research carried out using animals has been instrumental in the production of medications and procedures which are used in treatments to improve the welfare of animals.
What is the cost to the animals?
The law requires that any harm experienced by animals, caused by regulated procedures, be minimised at all times. A harm-benefit analysis approach is used during the licensing process in assessing whether the harm to the animal is justified by the potential scientific outcome. A severity system is in place to categorise regulated procedures and to control the impact on the animal. In 2018, 84 per cent of all regulated procedures carried out at the University were classed as sub-threshold or mild.
Where do you get the animals from?
There are strict laws regulating the supply of animals in research. Rodents and zebrafish must be bred for the specific purpose of being used in research and bought from licensed suppliers. Farm animals may be purchased from commercial farms. We breed most of the animals used at the University within our own facilities.
Who looks after the animals?
Our animals are cared for by experienced animal technicians with veterinary teams that offer specialist care and advice.
What happens to the animals at the end of a study?
At the end of scientific studies animals are humanely killed using strictly regulated methods. At this time soft body tissue samples are often collected as part of the research. We use a small number of client-owned pet dogs in studies to improve canine health. These dogs live at home with their owners throughout the study period and continue to live normal lives when the research ends.
Do you use non-human primates?
No, we do not use non-human primates at the University.
Do you test cosmetics on animals?
No, it has been illegal to use animals to test cosmetic products under UK law since 1998 and throughout the Europe Union since 2013.
Do you use animals to study stress?
Yes. Stress is a major cause of mental and physical ill health. It affects the whole body and the impact of stress cannot be recreated in cell cultures. We use a small number of rats in our research to better understand the effects of stress, specifically during pregnancy. Click the link below to find out more about our research on stress.
For more information on the use of animals in research these websites may be of use.