University Policy on the Use of Animals in Scientific Research

The University's aims

Biomedical research at the University of Oxford is at the forefront of development of innovative treatments, techniques, and translational science. Oxford researchers are involved in developing treatments and developing vaccines for a wide range of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV, malaria, Coronavirus, and tuberculosis, as well as cutting edge programmes investigating cognitive disorders such as autism and depression. Oxford scientists lead fundamental research programmes that contribute to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and are recognised for their research excellence into many fundamental biological areas including animal welfare, conservation, ecology, evolution and genetics.

Biomedical research at Oxford takes many different forms across a range of scientific disciplines and employs a range of methods including computer modelling, in vitro cell-based techniques, clinical trials in humans, and animal-based research projects. The use of animals in research projects takes place only when it is necessary to replicate the complex interactions of a whole living body and there is no practical alternative. The use of animals in research at the University is closely monitored and carried out according to standards and conditions set down by the licensing authority in the United Kingdom, the Home Office. All animal-based research is undertaken in compliance with the standards set down in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, revised 2012 usually referred to as A(SP)A.

Other research involving animals that is not regulated by A(SP)A is undertaken and includes tracking, observing, capture and release, and a range of associated studies. Such research is regulated by a wide range of legislation including the Animals Act, the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and others. The University requires the same standard of welfare and ethics in these projects as expected in biomedical research projects compliant with A(SP)A. The University will seek to minimise the use of animals in research whilst continuing to facilitate advances in science, research, and medical knowledge

How the University will achieve the necessary standards and quality

The University will require all staff and students involved in animal-based research to treat animals with respect and consideration and be appropriately trained. Staff and students will be required to take a proactive interest in the welfare of animals in their charge, and to ensure that all aspects of their work comply with the regulations set out by A(SP)A and the Home Office licensing authority. The University is also committed to: a policy of reduction, replacement, and refinement (3Rs) in all animal-based research; to promoting knowledge of the moral and legal requirements for animal research; and to promoting a culture of care in all aspects of research.

Replacement

The University will:

  • Require Home Office Project Licence applicants to demonstrate that non-animal alternative methods are either inappropriate for their research or do not currently exist.
  • Require researchers to ensure that where applicable ongoing developments in non-animal methods, such as computer modelling, cell and tissue-based research, and the use of imaging technology, will be utilised instead of live animals;
  • Promote awareness of non-animal methods through newsletters and a seminar programme sponsored by the Animal Care and Ethical Review Committee (ACER), the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Boards (AWERBs), and 3Rs Sub-Committee; and
  • Promote engagement with acknowledged experts on the replacement of animals in scientific research, through an exchange of views and promote the sharing of new ideas, techniques, and technology across the University.

Reduction

The University will:

  • Review of existing projects and require project licence holders to reduce animal numbers wherever appropriate;
  • Expect the design and analysis of experiments to be informed by appropriate statistical expertise; and
  • Provide expert advice on the careful management of breeding programmes to minimise surplus animals.

Refinement

The University requires:

  • The use the most refined procedural techniques available;
  • Appropriate care and standards of accommodation for animals that, wherever possible, exceed the standards prescribed under A(SP)A;
  • Awareness of best practice through education and training;

The University also requires individual engagement and commitment in the application of the 3Rs and will promote innovation in the 3Rs, both by developing local initiatives and by encouraging participation in national working groups and other bodies

The University's ethical review process

All applications and amendments to project licences that involve the use of animals for research will be subject to an internal ethical review process. The University has a central AWERB and faculty or departmental AWERBs that are governed by and report directly to Council. The AWERB membership includes scientists and researchers, lay members from inside and outside the University, Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers, Named Veterinary Surgeons, and other members of staff to provide a balanced review of research.

All project licence applications, amendments, and reports on progress are reviewed by one of the AWERBs before they can be endorsed and passed to the Home Office for further scrutiny. The University maintains a rigorous and objective process of ethical review that challenges scientists to justify their use of animals, and that requires them, where the use of animals is unavoidable, to work according to the principles of reduction and refinement.

The ethical review committees will:

  • Review all project licence applications to ensure that ethical and welfare standards are met;
  • Retrospectively review project licences at the mid-term point to ensure that researchers keep pace with new developments and incorporate new techniques where applicable. AWERBs are able to call for interim reviews of licences if considered necessary;
  • Include Named Veterinary Surgeons or a suitably qualified Veterinary Clinicians and Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers who play a key role in the ethical review process and contribute to the decisions made in committee;
  • Conduct a regular review of the composition and operation of ethical review committees to ensure they remain effective and meet with the requirements of A(SP)A.

Education and training

The University requires those working with animals possess the necessary skills to satisfy their responsibilities under A(SP)A.

  • The University requires individuals working with animals to be suitably trained and competent to perform procedures and carry out reproducible research on animals. The University provides high quality in-house training for those requiring project or personal licences under A(SP)A.
  • Individuals are required to undertake continual professional development (CPD) to enable them to update their skills.
  • Those working under A(SP)A must be aware of their roles and responsibilities.
  • The University will organise regular seminars on matters related to the 3Rs and appropriate techniques and new developments.
  • The University expects a team approach to animal work that fosters good communication and collaboration between all those involved in the care and welfare of animals through regular meetings and discussion between researchers.


Non-human primates

The University is aware of the sensitive nature of research work that involves non-human primates. The use of non-human primates is likely to remain necessary for certain limited and clearly defined purposes. Any proposal to use non-human primates will continue to be subjected to close scrutiny in the preparation phase and ethical review process to determine whether the objectives could be achieved by using other species or alternative technologies. The University undertakes to reduce the use of non-human primates wherever possible to the absolute minimum required to achieve its scientific objectives and to ensure the maximum benefit to medical and research knowledge has the minimum cost to the animals involved.

Research, collaborative projects, and work involving animals that falls outside the scope of A(SP)A or the European Directive

The University also uses living animals in scientific research that does not need to be licensed under A(SP)A. It is the expectation of the University that any research involving the use of animals will comply with the animal welfare and ethical standards that apply to those undertaken under A(SP)A or the European Directive. When a direct comparison to A(SP)A or the EU Directive is not possible a full and detailed assessment of the local regulation pertaining to where the research will be completed before the central AWERB approves a project proposal. If necessary, appropriate expertise or external advice will be sought to provide assurance that animal welfare considerations are part of the assessment of the project proposal. Oxford University researchers who wish to participate in collaborative research projects or are commissioning contract research involving animals outside of UK jurisdiction are required to notify the University’s central AWERB with details of the project. The committee will seek assurance that all work carried out will comply with the local ethical and animal welfare standards, and, where possible, similar standards that apply to animal research carried out at Oxford will be applied. The committee will assess the information provided by the project sponsor or liaison contact and will judge whether the local ethical review and welfare standards can be considered sufficiently rigorous to justify approval of the collaborative programme. Approval will be based on the anticipated outcomes, benefits, and likely cost to animals involved. If such assurance cannot be provided the committee will not approve involvement in the project proposal. The International Collaborative Research Policy will apply.

Reporting Animal Welfare Concerns

Any member of university staff concerned about any aspect of animal welfare within the University should report it immediately. Reporting procedures are displayed prominently in all animal facilities and disclosures will be treated in a confidential manner. Investigation of disclosures will comply with the University Public Interest Disclosure Policy

Discipline

The University has established this policy and procedures to ensure the highest standards of animal welfare and regulatory compliance. Any breach of these measures by a member of staff will be regarded as a serious disciplinary matter. It will be the responsibility of the licensee’s Head of Department, in consultation with the Establishment Licence Holder, to consider disciplinary action, in accordance with the Statutes of the University, which could lead to an oral or written warning. The most serious breach of standards may ultimately result in dismissal from the University. In the case of a student, the department may refer the matter to the Proctors for investigation and charges before the Student Disciplinary Panel; the ultimate sanction being expulsion from the University.

In addition, in the case of both staff and students, the Establishment Licence Holder may decide to restrict a licensee’s access to animal facilities. In the most serious cases, the Establishment Licence Holder may withdraw availability from a licensee, so that they can no longer carry out any work involving the use of animals, whether as part of disciplinary proceedings or otherwise. In the most serious cases the Home Secretary may decide to invoke legal proceedings against individuals who have committed infringements.