The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) undertakes a wide variety of research, including some involving animals. Research involving animals is well regulated in the UK and the RVC has a long-standing commitment to the welfare of animals in research environments. The College undertakes research to improve the welfare of experimental animals.
The RVC shares society’s desire to minimise the use of animal experimentation and increase the use of scientifically validated alternative methods that reduce, refine or replace the use of animal models. Nevertheless, animal experimentation remains a necessary part of the scientific discovery process and development of new medicines for veterinary practice.
Dogs, cats and other companion animals suffer from cancers, heart diseases, diabetes, joint disease and many other conditions. Research involving these and other species enables the development of new safe and effective veterinary medicines that improve the health and welfare of animals worldwide.
Regulation and licences
The use of animals in experiments is regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA). Some of the research conducted at the RVC takes place under Home Office licences granted under the directions of ASPA. Many of the animals used under ASPA are purpose bred (e.g. mice and rats) but some of the research we do on clinical patients (mainly dogs, cats and horses) and on farms (mainly cattle) is done under Home Office licences so we can take samples from our patients with naturally occurring disease that are to advance our knowledge rather than for the benefit of diagnosis and treatment of that animal (which is a requirement if samples are to be taken under the Veterinary Surgeons Act). In this case the animals remain with their owner, who gives informed consent to the research samples being taken but always has the option of declining to allow their pet to be involved in the research.
Licence applications are scrutinised by the RVC’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Board (AWERB), which looks at the balance between potential harm to the animals involved in experiments and the benefits that are likely to accrue from the work. If the AWERB is happy that all steps have been taken to minimise the harm to the animals involved and that the benefits that are likely to result from the work justify this then the licence application is passed to the Home Office. The application is then subjected to further scrutiny before permission for the work is granted under the authority of the Home Secretary.
Openness on animal research
The RVC is a signatory to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. A core principle of this is that the institution is open about how it involves animals in research and why. As a leading veterinary school, the RVC makes advances in veterinary science that benefit our patients and other animals globally. Due to commonalities between species, veterinary research findings sometimes help advances in human medicine – just as advances in medical practice help advance veterinary science and practice.
Section 24 of ASPA prevents research institutions from divulging certain information about their experiments. This section of the regulations was written at a time when animal rights extremism meant releasing certain information could pose a health and safety risk for researchers. Thankfully the risk of extremism is much diminished, and the Government is working with the research community to reform this section of law so that institutions can be more open and transparent about their research without being at risk of breaking the law. The RVC supports this process.
Exceptional care of purpose bred research animals housed in our experimental facilities
As a leading provider of both first opinion and referral veterinary treatment, the RVC can deliver the best of care to those animals participating in research programmes. Appropriate socialisation is provided throughout research processes and animals are often rehomed after participation if the Named Veterinary Surgeon thinks this is in the best interests of the animal.
Animal-based research taking place at the RVC helps educate both undergraduate and postgraduate students in robust scientific methodologies and enables courses to be grounded in the most up-to-date knowledge. A firm grounding in evidence-based practice enables practitioners trained at the RVC to offer the most efficacious treatment to their patients after they graduate.