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About: Animals in research

Ulster University is committed to high quality research and teaching. Research conducted at the University includes work which contributes to the furthering of knowledge of the biological and chemical mechanisms by which life originates, is sustained and reproduced.

This research has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of a range of health problems and diseases including cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.

Much of this research can be carried out using non-animal methods and materials, such as computer models and in-vitro cell culture technologies and this is done wherever possible.

Whilst it is acknowledged that the animal model is not a perfect model for humans, the use of animals in biomedical research remains essential, for example to gain a knowledge and understanding of physiological and pathological processes taking place in a whole organism as alternative techniques cannot always reproduce the complexity of a living creature. Many of the developments achieved through the use of animals have also benefited animals, helping them to live longer and healthier lives.

The University is fully committed to ensuring that whenever animals are absolutely necessary to carry out any research aiming to improve human and animal health, that all animals under its care are looked after to the highest standards of health and welfare.

Five Freedoms

At Ulster University, all approved scientific experiments are only carried out in the specifically designated animal housing establishment, an establishment that can provide animals with the environment that caters to their specific needs such as environmental temperature and humidity and required photoperiod.  Ulster University recognises that the animals in its care should have good welfare, regardless of the research goals or missions and recognises the "five freedoms" of animals:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom from fear and distress
  • Freedom to express most 'normal' behaviours

The Three R's

Ulster University places the highest emphasis on animal welfare and adheres strictly to the law with regard to the ethical framework of the Three R's: replace, reduce, refine for conducting scientific experiments that involve animals.

At the planning stage of any research, the researcher planning to carry out work on animals within the University must firstly and unambiguously show that there is no alternative (e.g. working with cells cultures) to working with animals.

If this is the case and the proposed scientific experiment's aims can only be achieved with the use of animals then the researcher must detail how the number of animals required to achieve the study's aim will be minimised and simultaneously the researcher must unambiguously show how any adverse effects to the animals in planned experimentation are going to be both minimised and counteracted.

Ethical Approval

All the above is presented to and overseen by the University's animal welfare and ethical review body that is made up of University staff (experts in animals health and welfare, various field of sciences and ethics), a representative of the government regulatory body (DHSSPS inspector), a veterinary surgeon as well as people independent of the University and its research work. The research proposal will only proceed when no alternative to animal work is possible, that planned research will use the absolute minimum numbers of animals and that any adverse effects to the animals are going to be minimal and counteracted.

All steps described above are in strict adherence to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) i.e. a law that controls and regulates all research using animals. All scientific experiments that are approved by the University's animal welfare and ethical review body and by the DHSSPS and thus are allowed to proceed are issued with a Project Licence, a legal document, which defines the conditions and the limits under which animals may be used.