Animal research

The Physiological Society supports the use of animals in research where it is essential for achieving progress.

The Society promotes excellence in UK bioscience research, but also the welfare of all animals used in such research. The Society is clear that the benefits accruing from the use of animals in research outweigh the limitations of their use as models of human physiology and pathology. The Society promotes maximal openness over the balance between the benefits of research involving animals and the possible harms caused to those animals. You can read our policy briefing for a summary of The Society’s position on this topic.

In 2012 we were pleased to be an early signatory of the Declaration on Openness in Animal Research, and it contributed to the subsequent development of the 2014 Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. The Concordat has developed principles of openness, practical steps and measurable objectives that underpin a more transparent approach to animal research and its reporting. As a signatory to the Concordat the Society, its membership and its publications are committed to:

  • Be clear about when, how and why animals are used in research
  • Enhance communication with the media and public
  • Be proactive in encouraging public discussion
  • Monitor and report on progress

Members of The Physiological Society are engaged in many different areas of research into cell, tissue, organ and system function (and malfunction), using myriad experimental approaches. Physiologists use in vitro (outside the living body and in an artificial environment) experimental approaches wherever possible, for example to examine events within individual cells. For the study of body systems, research involving animals plays a fundamental part in the life sciences, across three broad areas of investigation:

  • Information from animal research has been and remains fundamental to our understanding of how the systems of the body function (or malfunction) and interact in an intact organism, for example the control of the blood supply necessary for functioning of nerve cells in the brain, or how eating behaviour leads to changes in fat or sugar handling and obesity;
  • Such information can lead to further studies on the development of new clinical therapies for humans and animals;
  • Where the study is of non-human animals (for example in the development of new veterinary treatments, or to gain insights into the life of, and environmental impacts on, wildlife), it is necessary to study that species directly.

The knowledge gained from such research is a vital component of scientific and clinical advances. It has and will for the foreseeable future both improve and save the lives of humans and animals around the world, and shed light on how our changing environment affects us all.

The use of animals for research is never taken lightly, most especially in those few cases in which there are material adverse effects on the animals’ welfare. In the UK and Ireland strict regulations govern research involving vertebrate animals and cephalopods; indeed it is illegal to use animals in research where a suitable validated alternative exists.

The Physiological Society recognises that there are limitations in the use of animals as models of human conditions. However, before any projects are approved by government regulators, the scientific and possible clinical benefits are carefully weighed against any effects on the animals. Summaries of all projects that are approved and licensed in the UK are published by the Home Office.

The Physiological Society fully supports the ‘3Rs’ and works with various partners pro-actively to develop new technologies and techniques, including the UK’s National Centre for the 3Rs.

The ‘3Rs’ stands for:

  • Replacement – the use of non-animal methods to achieve the same ends
  • Reduction – reducing the number of animals used to achieve the required results
  • Refinement – enhancing animal welfare and minimising adverse effects, coupled with maximising the benefits of the research

The Physiological Society publishes three scientific journals: The Journal of PhysiologyExperimental Physiology and Physiological Reports. All three journals may publish articles in which the results of animal research are included, provided that the research adheres to their strict ethical guidelines. For work done in the UK/EU the use of animals must have complied with UK/EU legislation (the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 plus associated guidelines, and the EU Directive 2010/63/EU); for work done outside the EU the work must still comply with the principles of UK legislation as well as with local national and/or institutional ethical guidelines. A statement of compliance with these requirements must be included in articles. Publications need to demonstrate consideration of and adherence to the principles of the 3Rs.

The Physiological Society and its Journals fully endorse – and require – the use of the ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments) Guidelines on reporting of research using animals, and are committed to continued improvement of reporting of such research. Conformity with the ARRIVE guidelines means that publications should include detailed information not only on numbers of animals involved in the published work, but also, for example, on measures taken to promote animal welfare and to limit any adverse effects experienced by the animals. Adherence to the ARRIVE guidelines promotes optimum value from research involving in vivo experiments.

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