Research Governance & Ethics

University Research Policies

Research Involving Animals

Researchers at Robert Gordon University are provided with a supportive environment for their work and a clear framework which facilitates the Research Strategy of the University.

Without the use of animals, we would not have many of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine.

Studies involving animals make up a small part of our overall programme of medical and scientific research, with most of our research carried out using techniques such as cell and tissue culture, molecular biology, computer modelling and the study of samples from humans. As directed by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, animal procedures are replaced with non-animal techniques wherever possible and this is reflected in the fact that over 95% of medical research conducted at the University does not involve experiments on animals. Although animals will play a role in biomedical research for the foreseeable future, we strive to use the minimum number possible. Our researchers are actively looking at techniques to refine their experiments and help us reduce – and ultimately replace – their use.

All projects involving the use of animals are approved by an ethical review committee before any work can begin, and we are committed to maintaining a thorough and objective process of ethical review that require researchers to justify their use of animals, minimise the number of animals involved and maximise animal welfare.  The review committee also offers on-going support and guidance to researchers where necessary such as on best practice for animal use, welfare and refinement. Researchers are trained in the ethical dimensions of their work and in standards of animal care, welfare and accommodation and we have a designated veterinary surgeon that provides care and advice on the animals and their use.

Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

Animal research is strictly regulated by the Home Office under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the University is subject to inspections and review by the Home Office who examine all aspects of animal research, care and welfare.

All regulated work is carried out under licences, which are only issued if the potential benefits of the work are likely to outweigh the effects on the animals concerned. The University expects all those involved in the use of animals in scientific research to take personal responsibility for knowing the policy and their statutory responsibility under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Our research is also scrutinised by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, who strive to reduce the number of animals used.

Concordat on Openness

As a signatory to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research, the Robert Gordon University is committed to enhancing our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals.

The University supports the use of animals in research where no alternative is available and our researchers are committed to considering the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) in the design of any study ensuring that the number of animals used is minimised, and that procedures, and care routines are refined to maximise welfare.


Regulations and Animal Welfare

We place good welfare at the centre of all our animal research and aim to meet the highest standards: good animal welfare and good science go hand-in-hand.

Our research is scrutinised by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, who strive to reduce the number of animals used and all research is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). ASPA regulates procedures that are carried out on protected animals for scientific or educational purposes that may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. It also regulates the breeding and supply of certain species of animals for use in regulated procedures or for the scientific use of their organs or tissues. The Robert Gordon University has significant legal responsibilities under the terms of its Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Home Office Establishment Licence and has procedures and processes in place to help ensure these responsibilities are met.
Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA)

We only use animals in research where there are no alternatives. The principles of reduction, refinement and replacement of animals in research (the ‘3Rs’) underpin all related work carried out at the University. We take the position that compliance with the law and associated Codes of Practice relating to animal welfare is the minimum operating standard. We have management procedures to ensure that considerations of the 3Rs are embedded into all aspects of our strategic and operation management.

Named Persons

‘Named Persons’ are individuals identified on the Establishment Licence who have an important role under ASPA to help the Establishment Licence Holder/Named Person Responsible for Compliance fulfil their responsibilities. They include a ‘Named Veterinary Surgeon’, a ‘Named Animal Care & Welfare Officer’, ‘Named Information Officer’ and ‘Named Training and Competence Officer.’

24/7 Veterinary Care

We pride ourselves on the exceptionally high standards of care offered to all of our animals. Our scientists, named persons and animal technicians are committed to providing consistent specialist care daily throughout the year ensuring that each animal is afforded individual care which optimises their health and welfare.

Like pets, research animals go through periods of time unattended overnight and during the weekend; this is an important element of an animal’s physiology to be provided with time unhindered by human intervention. All facilities are continually monitored by building maintenance systems, which notify staff immediately if there is fault, and some areas and animal accommodation are monitored by webcam.

Animals are provided 24/7 with food and water ad-lib and constant access to nesting, bedding, enrichment as appropriate to the animal’s needs, unless authorised otherwise as part of an experimental protocol licenced under ASPA.

If anyone has concerns about the health or welfare of any animal at the University a Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS) is available immediately to provide advice 24 hours a day by telephone, email or face-to-face. Emergency NVS contact details are displayed in every unit.  In addition the researchers responsible for each experiment must provide their contact details before their experiment begins. This means that our named persons and animal technicians at the University can contact not only the scientists but also a veterinary surgeon when animals require it not just 24/7 but 365 days of the year.

Concordat on Openness on Animal Research

The Robert Gordon University recognises the need for greater understanding of animal research and has therefore joined over one hundred organisations from academia, industry, funding bodies and charities in signing the Concordat of Openness on Animal Research in the UK.
Concordat on Animal Research in the UK

ARRIVE Guidelines

We support the ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments) Guidelines, which have been developed by the NC3Rs to improve standards of reporting and ensure that the data from animal experiments can be fully scrutinised and utilised. The guidelines are aimed at scientists writing up their research for publication or involved in peer review.
ARRIVE Guidelines

NC3Rs

The National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research helps the University to drive scientific and technological developments that replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in research (the 3Rs). Keeping up to date with new policies ensures our animal experiments are as robust and reproducible as possible and guarantees we provide the best welfare for laboratory animals.
NC3Rs

LASA Guidelines

The University supports and expects everyone involved in animal research to use Laboratory Animal Science Association (LASA) Guidelines, which should be adhered to whenever animals are used in research. Laboratory animal science seeks to ensure the provision and best use of the most appropriate animal models, providing guidance towards animal science, care and welfare as well as licensing procedures.
LASA Guideline descriptions

Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body

All animal research at the University is overseen by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB). The AWERB Committee concentrates on reviewing all new programmes of work, amendments to programmes of work and the outcome of the work undertaken. The AWERB guides all aspects of animal welfare and provides ethical review of all research projects and protocols which involve animals in any way, delivering ethical advice on standards of animal care, welfare and accommodation. The committee consists of internal and external members, including scientists, veterinarians and lay members. The chairperson for the University’s AWERB is external and therefore independent of the University.

AWERB 3Rs Committee

This University committee scrutinises research projects and procedures involving the use of animals to ensure that the 3Rs – reduction, refinement and replacement – have been adequately applied and retrospectively review research projects with this in mind. This committee is proactive in the promotion of a culture of 3Rs within the University community, ensuring effective experimental design, and promotes awareness of alternatives where available.

Named Persons Committee

The committee helps to promote a ‘culture of care’ within the establishment and, as appropriate, in the wider community. The Named Persons Committee encompasses a number of roles, including:

  • The Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS), who is responsible for advising on the health, welfare and treatment of the animals (and who must be a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons with expertise in laboratory animal medicine for the species being used in the establishment).
  • The Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer (NACWOs), who is responsible for overseeing day-to-day welfare and care of animals.
  • The Named Training and Competence Officer (NTCO), who is responsible for ensuring that those dealing with animals are adequately educated, trained and supervised until they are competent and that appropriate further training continues.
  • The Named Information Officer (NIO), who is responsible for ensuring that those dealing with animals have access to any information they need about the species they are using.
  • Though not legally required, we also have a Home Office Liaison Contact. This administrative management position acts as a central point of communication between the University and the Home Office, facilitating the smooth running of the licensing system in the University.

FAQs

Why is animal research necessary?

Research using animals is essential for understanding the biology that underpins health and disease in both humans and other animals. Without such research, we would have few of the life-enhancing medical advances that we do now, such as modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine. These have all followed on from research on chemicals, cells, animals and the human body. Animals are used to investigate fundamental biology, to model disease and to test potential new treatments before they are tested in humans. Animal research is only undertaken where there is no alternative.

What types of animal do you use at Robert Gordon University?

The only animals we use here at the University in animal research are mice and rats.

How many procedures are undertaken on animals at the Robert Gordon University each year?

The Home Office has published the 2015 and 2016 animal research statistics showing the number and types of procedures conducted in England, Scotland and Wales. In 2015, Great Britain conducted 4,142,631 procedures, and in 2016, there were 3,939,723 procedures recorded, a fall of 5% compared with 2015. Of these procedures, less than 0.01% of these were carried out in the Robert Gordon University. The following table delineates the procedures carried out at our institution between 2014 and 2017. 

 

Mice (Not Genetically altered)

Mice (Genetically altered)

Rats

2014 

Sub-threshold

10

93

20

Non-recovery

152

104

34

Mild

0

20

Total

162

197

74

2015 

Sub-threshold

27

272

30

Non-recovery

41

153

10

Total

68

425

40

2016 

Sub-threshold

23

255

0

Non-recovery

31

30

16

Total

54

285

16

2017 

Sub-threshold

0

135

0

Non-recovery

0

10

0

Mild

0

1

0

Total

0

146

0

How do you ensure high standards of animal welfare?

We believe that good science and good animal welfare go hand in hand.  The UK has the most rigorous animal welfare regulations in the world, and we consider adherence to these regulations as a minimum and will continue to aim for the highest possible standards of animal care. We strongly agree with, and rigidly follow, the guiding principles emphasised by the Home Office on the need to refine protocols, keep the numbers of animals used to a minimum and replace the use of animals with other methods where possible (the 3Rs). We encourage all staff involved in animal research and husbandry to have good ethical, scientific and legal accountability while continuously developing and improving on existing welfare standards. All animals are properly housed, fed and cared for and there is a vet on call at all times.

Are you looking for alternatives to animal use?

We are committed to refining, reducing and replacing the use of animals in research - known as the 3Rs. Research involving animals at the University is just one of the many methods in biological and medical research. Research is also carried out in using cells, tissues, people and computational analysis programmes. While many of these methods are an alternative to using animals in research, they are also used as complementary methods, used alongside animal research. Animals are only ever used where no alternatives are viable and the use of animals in research accounts for a very small proportion of all biomedical research here at RGU.

How are you implementing replacement, reduction and refinement in your research?

We only use animals in research where there are no alternatives. Before any work is started, a study plan is written and submitted for approval. Each plan is written carefully to implement the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) throughout the study. Here are some examples of how we put the 3RS into place.

Reduction: Animals used in breeding practises or stock control that are no longer needed are repurposed and can have tissues or bloods harvested, reducing the use of additional animals. If an animal has been used as part of a study as a control, or is found to be an unwanted genotype, they too can be used. This is something we frequently do in our institution.

Refinement: We are continually assessing the techniques we use as part of our studies in the hope to improve them in line with the 3Rs. A new refinement technique being put into place includes the use of inhalation anaesthesia, which encourages the reduction of the number of animals needed in research, as well as increasing the quality of data. Here at RGU, we are practising more cell work and in vitro work to reduce the amount of animals used in research, and this is done both prior to any research using animals and alongside it.

Do you test cosmetics and household products on animals?

No. It is not permitted anywhere within the UK or the European Union to test cosmetics or household products on animals.

Who uses animals in research?

Most people carrying out the research are doctors, scientists, vets or trained animal carers, working in universities, hospitals, research institutes and pharmaceutical companies. Anyone who uses animals in research must have the necessary skills, training, and licenses, the research must be carried out in licensed premises, and all work needs to be approved by the Home Office before going ahead.

How is animal research regulated?

The UK is the only country in the world to have both local systems and national controls administered by the government. The strict controls under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 were added to in April 1999 with the introduction of the Local Ethical Review Process for animal research. There are also international regulations such as the European Directive 86/609.

Is it ethical for humans to experiment on animals?

Most people accept that, if animals are looked after properly, and used in minimum numbers only when necessary, then it is ethically acceptable to use animals in medical research. If we stopped using animals, then it is difficult to see where the solutions to today's medical problems are going to come from. If animal research were to be abolished immediately as called for by the animal rights groups then we would be denying treatments to the patients who are suffering now and in the future from a range of conditions.