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The legislative landscape, ethics and welfare

Regulation of animal research

Animal research in the UK is governed by strict laws. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act passed in 1986 sets out specific controls over the way research is done. An EU Directive also governs the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes, and was revised in 2010.

In the UK research can only be carried out when authorised by the Home Office. For every research project using animals, there must be a licence for the research project itself, for the researchers carrying out the project and for the institution where the project is taking place.

Licences are only granted to projects when the potential results can justify the use of animals, where the research can’t be done without the use of animals and when discomfort to the animals is kept to a minimum. The establishment must have appropriate veterinary facilities and look after animals properly, and all work must be carried out by highly trained and qualified staff who hold a personal licence and are competent to carry out the procedures, and whose competency is routinely monitored.

Ethics and welfare

The ICR is strongly committed to the highest standards of animal welfare in all research studies, and has driven the development of best practice in this area. 

All research projects at the ICR using animals are reviewed by our Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, which includes members of the public. The group examines the ethics of all research projects proposed and ensures that all projects consider the 3Rs principles. It must agree that our work is necessary and will be sufficiently beneficial before we can do any research using animals.

The research community is always looking for ways to improve welfare and minimise the use of animals in research, and has embraced the principles of the ‘3Rs’ – replacement, refinement and reduction of use of animals in research.  You can read more about our work on the 3Rs

We have led the development of best practice in animal welfare in cancer research. Our Chief Executive, Professor Paul Workman chairs a committee sponsored by the National Cancer Research Institute which developed Guidelines for the welfare and use of animals in cancer research which are used by cancer researchers in the UK and worldwide. 

Our animals live in an ultra-clean environment in cages that protect them from pathogens. Our facilities provide filtered air, ultraclean water, and sterile bedding and nesting, carefully monitored to maintain a high-quality environment.  We enrich cages with items that our animals can interact and play with, as an important part of looking after their welfare.

All organisations like the ICR that use animals have an Animal Care and Welfare Officer who oversees the care and welfare of the animals at the ICR. The Officer advises our researchers on welfare issues and ensures we do everything we can to minimise suffering and care for the animals we use in the best way we can.  We also have a veterinary surgeon on site who can advise on the health and welfare of animals.

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