Regulation and oversight of animal research
The use of animals in research is governed by UK and European law. The Home Office is responsible for a three-tier system of licensing. All institutions, including Imperial, have to apply for an overall licence. Each new proposal must also apply for a project licence and each researcher who intends to work with animals must hold a personal licence.
Government legislation only permits animal experiments when there is no other alternative and when the expected benefits outweigh adverse effects.
How animal research is overseen at Imperial
Animal research at Imperial is overseen by a Governance Board chaired by the Provost Professor James Sterling. It oversees the work of four other groups at the College with responsibility for ethical review, quality assurance, ‘the 3Rs’ and rooms that have been approved for use in animal research.
The Governance Board for Animal Research reports to the Provost’s Board and the President’s Board, which in turn reports to the College Council.
The Board oversees three animal research ethics committees called AWERBs (Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body). Two local AWERBs, one that covers the Hammersmith campus and one that covers the St Mary’s and South Kensington campuses, report to the central AWERB.
The Board also oversees the Management and Strategy Group for Animal Research. This group is responsible for the Advisory Groups on Quality Assurance, the 3Rs and Designated Rooms, as well as three Operations Groups that correspond to the three campuses.
It is a legal requirement that all new projects involving animals and all changes to animal research projects must undergo ethical review. This review weighs up the expected benefits of research against the possible suffering of animals involved. The process also questions whether there is any alternative and how the number of animals used and any suffering can be reduced.
The ethics committee is chaired by Professor Maggie Dallman and made up of a variety of people with expertise in research and in animal welfare including vets, technicians and scientists. The committee also includes lay people who are not directly involved in animal research.
The process allows all these individuals to interact and discuss the proposed research, to question the researchers involved, and to agree on a solution that combines the highest quality science with the best standards of animal welfare.
The ethical review process also looks at research that has been carried out in the past to examine whether any lessons can be learnt in how animal experiments can be reduced, replaced or refined.
The committee advises Imperial on the best procedures and practices for maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare.
Imperial runs a quality assurance programme, led by the users of the animal research facilities to develop and promote best practice in animal research including the 3Rs (replacement, refinement and reduction). The group is chaired by Professor Marina Botto.
The terms of reference for this group are as follows:
- to provide an ongoing mechanism for ensuring compliance with applicable animal care and use policies, guidelines and laws;
- to promote the development of best practice and the application of ‘the 3Rs’ in animal research;
- to promote effective and constructive communication and education for all the members of the Imperial animal research community;
- to meet and exceed, where possible, internationally recognised standards;
- to review existing training programmes and make recommendations as appropriate;
- to develop an internal inspection process to review animal care and welfare activities, and make recommendations to the Management and Strategy Group;
- and to ensure effective record keeping for the College.
3Rs advisory group
Imperial has a strong track record for its work to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research. The College now has a 3Rs Advisory Group so that everyone who works with animals at Imperial – whether as a technician, researcher or in another capacity – has the fullest possible engagement with the principles and application of the 3Rs. The Group, chaired by Professor Richard Reynolds, is encouraging innovative approaches by staff for exploring new and effective ways to implement the 3Rs across College.
All animal research must, by law, be carried out in approved areas.
At Imperial, the vast majority of work with animals takes place in specialist facilities. However, there are some occasions where this is not feasible. For example, an academic may need to use a large piece of equipment, such as a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which cannot be practically accommodated in our animal facilities.
To ensure the highest standards of animal welfare, the room containing such equipment is assigned as a Designated Room and must meet the standards of a specialist facility, as required by the Home Office.
Imperial has established a Designated Rooms Advisory Group to provide a clear and designated route for seeking advice or raising any issues around Designated Rooms.