An investigation into university animal testing by Palatinate has revealed that Durham University conducts the fewest animal tests in the Russell Group, after the London School of Economics – an institution without any biological sciences.
In 2019, Durham conducted 581 procedures on animals, a figure dwarfed by the 229,163 animals used by Oxford for scientific purposes in the same year. Newcastle University, meanwhile, carried out 34,230 procedures.
The animals used by Durham were mice, rabbits, rats and fish.
Following a scientific procedure, laboratory animals are generally euthanised.
In this context a procedure is a regulated term, defining any scientific or educational practice that may induce a level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equal to, or greater than, that caused by a surgical needle.
Six fish, to mice and three rabbits used by Durham experienced a severe procedure. Generic examples of severe procedures include breeding animals with severe genetic disorders, any test in which deaths are expected or test of a device that could kill if it failed.
This figure is also small in comparison to other leading universities. Of Imperial College’s 80,799 procedures in 2019, for example, 715 were classified as severe whilst a further 3,951 were classified as non-recoverable – meaning that an animal would not be expected to come round from general anaesthetic. Oxford University completed three severe procedures on non-human primates.
Part of this variation could be explained by the lack of a medical department at Durham. Many of the universities with the highest figures – including UCL (186,424 procedures in 2019) and Edinburgh (198,517 procedures in 2019) have large medical research departments.
Durham University’s Biosciences Department tested mice, rats and rabbits in a study to better understand the cause of cataracts, the major cause of blindness worldwide. The Psychology Department, meanwhile, used rats to investigate techniques for improving memory loss treatments.
In 2017 a report was published highlighting that 10 leading UK universities account for 1/3 of all animal research in the UK.
Numbers have not dropped significantly since then, despite a commitment made by many universities to adopt the ‘3Rs’ of animal research: replacement, refinement and reduction.
Any institution carrying out animal testing in the UK must conform to strict standards governed by the Home Office. Most Russell Group Universities – including Durham – go further, signing up to the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research in the UK, which means that figures such as those which informed this investigation are freely available on university websites. Figures for 2020 will not be published until mid-2021.
Durham’s animal testing statistics can be found here: https://www.dur.ac.uk/animalresearch/figures/
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