An increasing number of animals are being used in scientific experiments at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and none survive the ordeal.
Some 691 mice died at some point during medical research in 2018 - more than the whole of 2015, 2016, and 2017 combined.
So far this year, 346 rodents have been used, with a further 544 being kept for future studies.
The university, which has previously said “no-one wants to use animals and we are working on ways to replace them”, has expanded its medical school and biomedical departments and has ramped up its human disease-based research, especially into illnesses like Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia.
'EXPERIMENTERS ARE MISGUIDEDLY ATTEMPTING TO UNDERSTAND COMPLEX HUMAN-SPECIFIC CONDITIONS'
A new row over the use of animals has also broken out, with campaign group Peta’s science policy adviser Dr Julia Baines saying: “Experimenting on other species is an intrinsically flawed approach. It wastes animals’ lives as well as research money, and it offers only false hope for those suffering from disease.
“Although animals can feel pain and fear, just as humans can, fundamental biological differences between species mean that experiments on animals don’t reliably yield meaningful results that can be applied to humans.”
She added: “Yet we see a dramatic increase, year after year, in the number of mice used in experiments at the University of Central Lancashire.
“Experimenters are misguidedly attempting to understand complex human-specific conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and mental illnesses and to study complex traits such as empathy by undertaking cruel genetic modification experiments using mice.”
Dr Baines pointed towards a study published in 2014, which said several studies “have shown that even the most promising findings from animal research are rarely adopted into clinical practice”.
That study’s findings have been contested, with two medical experts saying: “The reader was left with [the] impression that there were no examples in recent years of animal research leading directly to major advances in human health”.
They added: “Three life-saving treatments in neonatal medicine would never have been given ethical approval for clinical trial if there had not been high quality animal models showing efficacy.”
'ANIMAL TESTING HAS BEEN EXCEPTIONALLY EFFECTIVE AT KEEPING DANGEROUS DRUGS AWAY FROM PEOPLE'
Prof Robin Lovell-Badge once argued in an article on the website of Understanding Animal Research, a pro-animal research group with universities, charities, and pharmaceutical companies among its members, that testing on animals stops dangerous medicines being given to humans in clinical trials.
He said: “If you want to know how truly successful animal tests are, consider that in over 30 years there has not been a single death in a phase one clinical trial in the UK.
“Considering that there are normally over 200 phase one clinical trials each year in the UK - each involving multiple people - animal testing has been exceptionally effective at keeping dangerous drugs away from people.”
Mice are seen by some as ideal for scientific experiments because they are genetically similar to humans while also having a short lifespan and fast reproductive rate, which makes them suitable for studying diseases across entire lifetimes.
Chris Magee from Understanding Animal Research said animals have been used to help eradicate smallpox and reduce once-fatal conditions into manageable ones.
He said: “There are similarities and differences between species and they can both be useful for tackling disease. For instance, pig insulin is so similar to human insulin it was the only treatment for diabetes until the 1980s.
'ANIMAL RESEARCH PLAYS AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN SOME OF THE WORK WE UNDERTAKE'
“On the other hand, some cancer drugs are made from mouse or hamster antibodies and you can’t get these from a computer.
“Scientists already use every tool at their disposal, including computer models, tissue models and simulated organs where they can, but animals are used when these aren’t up to the job and can only be used by law when there’s no alternative.
“Activists have been claiming for 150 years that animal experiments won’t work, yet in that time we’ve used animals to create virtually all human and animal medicines, eradicated smallpox and turned former death sentences like HIV into long-term, manageable conditions.”
UCLan said it “takes its responsibility in relation to the use of animals in research very seriously”.
It said: “Animal research plays an important role in some of the work we undertake but is always concluded in an ethical and responsible manner.
“All the regulated animal work we do is with mice and rats, and is vital to finding out more about chronic and debilitating conditions like Alzheimer’s and cancer.
“Relevant government legislation is strictly adhered to, while all projects are fully vetted and approved by an advisory body made up of both internal and external members to ensure we comply with all the necessary requirements.
“Home Office inspectors also regularly visit the university to ensure its work meets the UK’s legal and welfare standards.
“As per UK law, which states that alternatives must be used when available, the university is always looking at ways to replace the use of animals in its research,” it added.
“We use tissue culture and computer modelling where possible, but some properties, such as the regulation of blood pressure, can only be demonstrated by animals.”
HOW MANY ANIMALS HAVE DIED IN RECENT YEARS?
The Post used freedom of information laws to ask UCLan how many animals have been used in experiments every year for the past five years, how many have died, and how many are currently being kept for use in studies. It also asked for a list of experiments carried out.
UCLan said the number of animals used in regulated procedures was 39 in 2015, 38 in 2016, 507 in 2017, 691 in 2018, and 346 so far this year.
“All the above were mice, and all were euthanised at some point…” the university said. “Currently, the university has 544 animals being kept for use in regulated procedures.”
The numbers differ from those given in a question and answer document hosted on the university’s website, which said 591 animals were used in 2017 - 517 mice and 74 rats.
The university said those figures relate “to other uses of animals in research, in addition to animals used in regulated procedures”.
Understanding Animal Research said the number of animals used nationally remains “broadly stable” at around four million a year. Mice are used in around three quarters of all procedures, government statistics showed.
What experiments has the university been carrying out?
‘New strategies for diagnosis and treatment of glioma’
Researchers were looking into new ways to diagnose and treat gliomas, which are brain tumours starting in the glial cells.
Gliomas are one of the most common types of brain tumours and, in 2008, a study found the “universally fatal disease has become treatable with hope of cure for some”.
‘Role of D1R-D3R heteromers in L-DOPA-induced dyskinesias’
Dyskinesia is a movement disorder - from slight tremor to uncontrollable movement of the upper body or lower limbs - linked to a drug used to treat Parkinson’s disease. This study looked into the role dopamine receptors in the central nervous system play. “In the majority of Parkinson’s disease patients, chronic dopamine replacement therapy leads to involuntary aimless movements known as l-dopa-induced dyskinesia,” a 2009 study found.
‘Kainate receptor-dependent plasticity and its role in brain development’
Objectives included looking at how the CHMP2B gene affects the NMDA receptor, which is found in nerve cells, and how a mutant gene called CHMP2BIntron5, which has been linked to dementia, affects the brain.
‘SUMOylation accelerates supply-rate depression’
An imbalance of SUMOylation, a post-translational modification, has been linked to various diseases including cardiac disease, neurodegenerative disease, and cancers, a 2017 study found. Objectives in this study included looking at the effects of Levetiracetam, a drug used to treat epilepsy.
‘The nature and nurture of psychopathy’
aimed to “generate APD (antisocial personality disorder) traits in mice”, before reversing them through “environmental improvement”. It also looked at using drugs to prevent APD traits, and comparing psychopathic and empathic traits in “key mouse mutants”.
‘Immune and therapeutic aspects of neurodevelopmental disorders’
Objectives included testing “interventions that might be therapeutically-relevant to neurodevelopmental disorders”, which are blamed on unusual brain development or damage at an early age. Disorders include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
What types of animal are being used?
“Currently all the regulated animal work we do is with small mammals (mice and rats),” the university said in its Q&A document, which dates back to last November.
“They are vital to finding out more about conditions that have devastating effects on people.”
There are no plans to use larger live animals such as cats, dogs, and primates, it added, and the university has never been involved in cosmetics testing, which has been banned in the UK since the late ‘90s, though 80 per cent of countries still allow it.
It also does not carry out so-called controversial LD50 studies - tests used to work out the required dosage of a substance needed to kill half a group of test animals.
“Animals used in our research are always purpose-bred and their welfare is a priority,” the university said.
“The majority of animal research conducted … is classed as mild (eg blood sample), or moderate (eg tumour growth studies).
“We do not undertake any severe level procedures.”
It did not say how much research is classed as ‘non-recovery’ - where an animal has a procedure under general anaesthesia before being euthanised without being woken up.
UCLan’s research is regulated by an internal review board made up of academics, researchers, a person with no relevant training or experience, and staff.
Each experiment needs three licences: one for the researcher showing they’re skilled enough to carry it out; another showing the lab’s facilities are up to scratch; and one for the experiment itself, Understanding Animal Research said.
The scientist has to prove to an ethical board there’s no alternative - and explain the possible benefits - with the board’s decision then checked by the Home Office, which is also overseen by a committee which decides the most difficult ethical cases and counts a scientific manager from the animal charity RSPCA as one of its members.
What is the Government's stance?
The Government said it is “committed to the replacement, reducation, and refinement of the use of animals in research” by using the three Rs.
Replacement means trying to avoid the use of animals with alternative methods, such as advancing technology; reduction means trying to minimise the number of animals used per experiment or study; and refinement means trying to minimise the pain and distress suffered by the animals.
The previous coalition government pledged to reduce the use of animals in scientific studies and said in a report: “Breakthroughs in areas such as tissue engineering, stem cells, and computer modelling have opened up significant opportunities to reduce our reliance on animal research models.”
It said the plan “brings together the UK’s long tradition of support for animal welfare alongside its strength in science and innovation” and said: “This work is very challenging and often involves agreement at inter-governmental level.
“However, the reward is to effect reductions in the volume of animal experiments on a scale well above what can be achieved by domestic action.”
In the latest annual report into animal testing, Baroness Williams of Trafford, a Tory Lord and minister of state at the Home Office, said: “The use of animals in scientific research helps us to ensure that medicines are safe to use and to find treatments for cancer and other diseases, among a range of other benefits.
“This work must continue to be authorised within a rigorous regulatory system. This ensures that animal research and testing is carried out only where no practicable alternative exists and under controls that keep suffering to an absolute minimum.”