UCL releases animal research statistics alongside fellow top institutions

UCL is releasing its animal research statistics today in collaboration with Understanding Animal Research - an organisation that explains why animals are used in medical and scientific research.

UCL and nine other institutions together conducted nearly half of all UK animal research in 2019.

The statistics pertain to animal procedures used in medical, veterinary and scientific research, and are freely available on UCL’s animal research website as part of joint commitments to transparency and openness.

These ten organisations carried out 1.66 million procedures, 48.7% of the 3.40 million procedures carried out in Great Britain in 2019. More than 99% of these 1.66 million procedures were carried out on rodents or fish.

Animal research at UCL contributes to developing treatments for a wide range of conditions, such as heart disease, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, chronic pain, epilepsy, Huntington’s disease, multiple types of cancer, as well as ongoing studies into COVID-19.

This is the fifth year in a row organisations have come together to publicise their collective numbers and examples of their research.

All organisations are committed to the ’3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible; minimising the number of animals used per experiment and optimising the experience of the animals to improve animal welfare. However, as institutions expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study.

All ten organisations are signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, a commitment to be more open about the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK. More than 120 organisations have signed the Concordat including UK universities, medical research charities, research funders, learned societies and commercial research organisations.

Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, which developed the Concordat on Openness, said: "Animal research is essential for the development of new drugs and vaccines for diseases like cancer, dementia, and COVID-19. Over the last six months we have witnessed researchers from across the world work tirelessly to develop new treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, which it is hoped can prevent thousands of further deaths.

"Existing drugs, developed using animals, have also been found to be effective against the virus: Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug that was initially developed using monkeys to treat Ebola, is being used to treat severe cases of COVID-19, and dexamethasone, a steroid originally developed using animal research to treat rheumatoid arthritis, has been found to save the lives of some patients on ventilators.

"Research involving commonly used animals like rodents, and more unusual animals like llamas, alpacas, bats, and hamsters has also yielded important information on how COVID-19 can be treated."

Case study: New transplant method could aid blood cancer patients

Researchers at UCL have recently developed a new way to make blood stem cells present in the umbilical cord ’more transplantable’, a finding in mice which could improve the treatment of a wide range of blood diseases in children and adults.

Blood stem cells, also known as haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), generate every type of cell in the blood (red cells, white cells and platelets), and are responsible for maintaining blood production throughout life.

When treating certain cancers and inherited blood disorders, it is sometimes necessary to replace the bone marrow by allogeneic stem cell transplantation - which involves using stem cells from a healthy donor.

The umbilical cord is a useful source of blood stem cells, and cord blood transplants lead to fewer long-term immune complications than bone marrow transplants. Although umbilical cord transplants have been used in young children for the last 30 years, most cord blood units contain insufficient HSCs to be suitable for older children and adults, and 30% of all units contain too few even for the youngest children, and go to waste.

The study, published in the journaláCell Stem Cell in March of this year, highlights how a protein called NOV/CCN3 can be used to rapidly increase the number of HSCs in single umbilical cord blood units - potentially opening the door to units that would otherwise be discarded being made available for patients of all ages.

The researchers say that trying to increase the actual number of hematopoietic stem cells in umbilical cord blood is both expensive and challenging. Not all HSCs present in a cord blood unit can or will transplant, indicating that cord blood units have untapped transplantation potential.

By studying cell cultures in the lab and trialling stem cell transplants in mice, the UCL Cancer Institute research team found that umbilical cord blood units exposed to highly purified NOV showed significantly more transplantation potential than regular samples. The frequency of functional HSCs in the sample increased six-fold.

For the next stage, the scientists will take their research into a clinical setting to explore how it could benefit patients with blood cancers and other blood disorders.


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