Animal research

The University of Surrey conducts world-leading research in biomedical sciences and, although animal research forms a small proportion of the work that we perform, it remains vital to our research portfolio.

The following pages outline why and when animal research is necessary, how this is governed and how we are working to actively implement the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) and maintain appropriate standards in animal welfare.  Examples of how the University is using animals, how it is committed to the 3Rs and the facts and figures detailing how many animals are used each year are provided below.  

Why is animal research needed?

Animal research has been instrumental in allowing medical progress to occur in the last few centuries. Vaccines, and many of the drugs and medicines we currently use to treat cancer, heart diseases and brain disorders, have involved animal research as a critical part of their development prior to license for human use.  In addition to benefits for human health, research using animals also allow us to better understand the conditions that affect animals and therefore develop treatments for them.  

How the UK law protects animals

The Home Office has very strict regulations governing the use of animals for research, with legal protection for research animals often exceeding those for pets, livestock or any other animals.  

The laws governing scientific research using animals are set out in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, as amended in 2012 or ASPA, which covers regulations on housing, environment, welfare, care and health.  

Granting of permission to work with animals is through licences from the Home Secretary that are assessed by weighing the benefits of the research project against the likely cost to the animal’s wellbeing.  Home Office Inspectors are highly trained individuals, usually veterinary surgeons, who perform inspections, which can be unannounced, to check that the terms of the licences at institutions are being adhered to, that animal welfare and a culture of care is being maintained and whether the legal requirements (such as minimum housing requirements) are being achieved/met.   Home Office Inspectors can review anything at the facilities including the conditions of the animals and their housing, staff, research training, competence records and the culture of care based on observations and interviews with staff.  

Before the authorisation of research on animals, three separate licences are required – an Establishment Licence for the place at which the work is carried out; a Personal Licence for each researcher to ensure that they have the appropriate and sufficient amount of training, skills and experience; a Project Licence for each research project which is only granted if the research is considered impractical with non-animal methods, if the potential benefits of the research using animals are important enough to justify the expected harm to the animals, and that the use of animals and any discomfort they may experience, is minimised.

Before the Home Office sanctions any animal research to occur in the establishment, each Project Licence is scrutinised by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) (see below).  Further valuable information is available through Understanding Animal Research and the Home Office.

How the University of Surrey protects animals

The University of Surrey is committed to very high standards of animal welfare;  if a researcher believes that the use of animals for their research is the only way to answer an important scientific question they must apply for internal ethical approval.  Applications are considered by the University of Surrey’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB), a body that must include lay members, veterinary surgeons, researchers, a statistician and animal facility staff, including Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWOs).  If a project receives a positive ethical evaluation by the AWERB, an application is then submitted to the Home Office for their consideration. Approval, in the form of licences, must be received from the Home Secretary following a recommendation from the Licensing team (who take advice from Home Office Inspectors) before any animals can be used in research.

On a daily level, staff are trained to be proactive in looking out for signs of distress or discomfort in animals and to report these immediately.  For example, the mouse grimace scale developed to detect signs of distress in mice, is prominently displayed around the animal facilities to help our staff working with the animals to look out for such signs.


The function of the AWERB is to advise and promote the full implementation of the 3Rs, especially in safeguarding the welfare of animals and reviewing harms and benefits of the research. In addition, the AWERB also advises the Establishment Licence Holder on whether or not to submit research projects to the Secretary of State. The core responsibilities of the AWERB as set out by the Home Office are as follows:

  • Advise staff and researchers working with animals on matters related to the welfare of the animals, in relation to their acquisition, accommodation, care and use
  • Advise on the application of the '3Rs': replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research, including implementation of new research and technical developments 
  • Ethical evaluation of all projects involving animals before submission to the HO for approval; optimal implementation of the 3Rs as well as weighting harms and benefits are central to the review process
  • Establish and review management and operational processes for monitoring, training reporting and following up matters relating to animal welfare
  • Retrospective reviews of research projects carried out in the establishment, taking into account the effects on the animals used, identifying and advising on elements that could further contribute to the 3Rs
  • Review of the progress and outcomes of ongoing projects and whether there are further opportunities to implement the 3Rs
  • Advise on re-homing schemes, including the appropriate socialisation of the animals to be re-homed

The AWERB oversees the establishment’s use of animals in research and encourages high standards of animal welfare, creating a culture of care, discussing ways in which the 3Rs can be actively implemented and by sharing experience and best practice.

Several ‘Named’ individuals also contribute to ensuring that animals are looked after optimally, and these include the Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWOs), the Named Training and Competence Officer (NTCO), the Named Information Officer (NIO), and Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS).


The NACWOs are responsible for overseeing the welfare and care of the animals used in research.  If any member of staff or researchers have concerns about animal welfare they are encouraged to raise these with the NACWOs.

The role of the NTCO is to ensure that all individuals working with animals are adequately trained and supervised until they are competent. The NTCO also ensures that further training continues as appropriate. The NIO provides users with up-to-date relevant information that will help the implementation of the 3Rs and care for animals. The NVS is advising on the health, welfare and treatment of the animals. The animal facilities at the University of Surrey are staffed by a team of dedicated trained animal technologists and, along with the licence holders, are responsible for the care and welfare of laboratory animals and their environments.  All staff and researchers who work with animals receive rigorous training, are assessed on their training and competence through appropriate records, and are only allowed to work with animals when the NTCO and NACWO are satisfied they can do so with care and compassion and an overriding commitment to a culture of care. The training and competence records are also regularly reviewed.

Animal use at the University of Surrey – facts and figures

The Home Office collates and publishes records of all protected animals used in scientific procedures in the UK every year.  These are published on an annual basis and can be accessed on the Home Office website.

As a signatory of the Concordat for openness in animal research, the University of Surrey is committed to being open and transparent about our use of animals in our biomedical research.  As part of this process, we will publish the number of animals used in research at the University of Surrey on an annual basis.  

Below are the figures for the number of animals used in procedures at the University of Surrey in 2015:

Category Mouse Vole Rat Rabbit Guinea Pig
Bred 677 132 0 34 0
Acquired 225 0 94 10 26
Supplied 0 0 0 0 0
Used in procedures 770 0 36 34 26

These animals were used in a variety of research areas such as cancer, sleep and heart disease.

The University of Surrey’s commitment to the 3Rs

The University of Surrey has embedded the principles of the 3Rs in relation to animal research: replacing animal research with alternatives; reducing the number of animals used; refining experiments to minimise harm and discomfort to the animals and improve their welfare.

Replacement – the University strives to replace animal research with alternative methods wherever available, including imaging, computer and mathematical modelling, human volunteer studies, cell culture methodologies etc.  The University was recently awarded a grant of £424,344 for a
bovine alveolus model to replace cattle in the study of host-pathogen interactions in bovine tuberculosis.

Reduction – the AWERB always ensures that experiments using animals are designed to use as few as possible to answer the scientific question being addressed. The ability to extract as much data as possible from an experiment is paramount, and through data archiving researchers can also reanalyse data from prior experiments. The University is reducing the number of animals kept in the facility through an appropriate breeding strategy and has received funding of  £434,851 for reducing animal use using Dictyostelium to study the genetic basis of Mycobacterium bovis intracellular infection in collaboration with the University of Geneva.

Refinement – the animals are raised and housed under strictly controlled conditions in the facilities and all scientific procedures are carried out in a humane fashion.  As part of the approval process, the effect of any experimentation on animal welfare is a major consideration and the research is designed to minimise the use of invasive or distressing procedures wherever possible, and anaesthetic and analgesics are always used where appropriate.

The University’s commitment to a culture of care means that the implementation of the 3Rs is a continuous process for everyone working with animals.

See how the University is using alternatives to animals in its research.

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