Moving towards a better conversation about animal research

Posted on October 19, 2012 by


AMRC today stood alongside David Willetts – Minister for Universities & Science, research councils, universities and industry to support a Declaration on Openness 2012 at a press conference launching the latest Ipsos MORI survey commissioned by BIS to assess public attitudes to animal research.

What does the Declaration say?

The Declaration recognises the value of UK life sciences research, developing new treatments and cures – and the role research using animals plays in this. Where possible, scientists use cells grown in a lab, computer models and human volunteers. When this isn’t possible, research may involve animals.

It recognises the robust regulation and good practice we have in the UK and the important role openness about this research and public scrutiny plays in this.

And it commits to a process bringing together research funders – research councils, industry and charities – scientific bodies and universities, to develop a concordat, an agreement of principles of open communication, and the practical steps and measurable objectives needed to achieve these to underpin a more transparent approach to talking about animal research across the bioscience community.

What does the survey say?

The survey shows a slight fall in public support for research that uses animals. Whilst the majority of people still support the need for animals to be used in medical research where there is no alternative, the figures also show that a significant proportion of the population want to know more about the reasons why animals are used and the strict conditions under which that use is regulated.

This representative poll shows that 63% of people agree with animal experimentation for all types of medical research where there is no alternative. This is a high level of acceptance but represents a drop of 10 percentage points from the 73% agreeing with this statement in 2010.

 The poll shows a fall in trust in the regulation of animal experimentation in the UK.  43% expect that the rules in Britain on animal experimentation are well enforced, down from 56% in 2010.

 It is very important that the public, who choose to donate money to charities funding medical research, can have confidence in the research that is conducted. The UK life sciences sector is at the forefront of developing ground breaking new treatments and cures. Patients are already living healthier and longer lives thanks to this research and they put their hope in further advances that will help us better understand normal biological functions and how to treat diseases where these functions go wrong. These results suggest they want to know more about how and why we use animals in research.

When do medical research charities fund research using animals?

Where possible, scientists use cells grown in a lab, computer models and human volunteers. When this isn’t possible, research may involve animals. When we need to use animals, we strive to reduce the number needed, and seek to develop viable alternatives.

AMRC charities review all the research they fund to ensure it is of the highest quality, and where this research needs to involve animals, consider how steps can be taken to develop replacements to using animals, reduce the number of animals needed in an experiment and refine the way they are used to maximise their welfare.

They strongly support The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), an independent organisation that supports the UK science base to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research and funds research into replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research. More about some of the research they fund here.

What have we said?

Sharmila Nebhrajani, Chief Executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities said:

Medical research is the most popular charitable cause in the UK with over 11 million people donating every month. As a result, medical research charities are able to invest over £1 billion a year into UK research to better understand and treat conditions that affect all our lives. We owe it to the public therefore to be clear about how and why we use animals so they can have confidence in the research their donations fund. As a sector we know the regulations in this country are among the most robust in the world and it is important that the public can see this too.

Today’s poll shows that the majority of the public remain supportive of medical research involving animals where there is no other alternative and where the result of that research may lead in time to therapies or cures for serious disease – but it is clear the research sector has more to do.

The commitment to a Concordat offers a real opportunity for the bioscience community to discuss medical research involving animals more openly and constructively with the public. And of course each of us may at some time be a patient who stands to gain from this research – so it is crucial we can build the confidence of the public in this important work.

What next?

By supporting the Declaration on Openness about Animal Research, AMRC has, on behalf of our members, joined a coalition of universities, companies and the research councils to establish a joint group, a Concordat, that will together develop principles of open communication as well as some practical steps and measurable objectives for a more transparent approach across the bioscience community to animal research. This process will be led by Understanding Animal Research and their newly appointed chief executive, Wendy Jarrett.

Posted in: Policy