Involving animals in research

As a public funder of research and innovation, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) has a responsibility to ensure that our activities and those we fund are aligned with UK legislation and other guiding principles

Animals are involved in many kinds of research and innovation, ranging from fundamental biological and medical research aimed at new discoveries, to studies aimed at:

  • improving animal health and welfare
  • understanding animal behaviour and human relationships with animals
  • improving agricultural practices and technologies
  • aiding conservation efforts

Animals are used to study human and animal biology in health and disease, to determine the safety and efficacy of potential new treatments, as well as in the validation of alternative approaches. Such research has provided, and continues to provide, the important information for advancing:

  • our understanding of how living organisms function
  • improvements in medical and veterinary knowledge, education and practice

Many of the developments achieved through the use of animals in research have also benefited farm, domestic, laboratory, and wild animals, helping them to live longer and healthier lives.

Research and innovation involving animals in the broadest sense could occur across UKRI’s remit and animals may be involved in some components of multidisciplinary projects funded by UKRI.

Position statement

Use of animals under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA)

In the UK, scientific procedures that may cause living non-human vertebrates and some invertebrates (for example, octopus, squid) pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm are regulated under ASPA.

In funding research and innovation covered by ASPA, UKRI expects researchers to apply the principles of the 3Rs (the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals).

UKRI is a signatory to the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research, committing to transparency and clear public communication about when, how and why UKRI and the researchers UKRI funds use animals in research.

UKRI will only fund research and innovation using animals and procedures covered under ASPA where:

  • no scientifically acceptable non-animal alternatives exist
  • it is fully compliant with current Home Office legislation and related codes of conduct or guidance issued by government departments and the specific conditions of licences and grant awards
  • the work is (or will be prior to commencing) approved by a local ethics committee (in the UK and overseas if relevant)
  • the work programme has been successfully peer-reviewed or assessed
  • the researchers have properly considered and apply options for replacement, reduction and refinement
  • the researchers:
    • have fully justified the use of the animal model
    • use the statistically appropriate number of animals
    • have a robust experimental design to make sure that the research is of the highest quality possible
  • all staff involved are appropriately trained and competent
  • when reporting results, researchers do so in accordance with the ARRIVE guidelines for reporting experiments involving animals

Researchers should refer to the relevant guidance, which sets set out in greater detail UKRI’s expectations of applicants intending to use animals in their research:

This guidance can be found alongside other key information in the ‘UKRI policies and guidance’ section.

Other research and innovation involving or impacting on animals

UKRI also funds research and innovation not regulated by ASPA which involves or may impact upon animals.

This may include:

  • behavioural observation studies
  • studies of artistic, religious, or cultural practices involving animals
  • development of technologies or approaches that impact on managed animals (for example, in agricultural systems)
  • non-invasive wildlife surveys

In research and innovation involving animals that is not covered by ASPA, UKRI expects all researchers it funds to:

  • apply the principles of the 3Rs where there is any intended or potential interaction with animals, or where there will be impact directly on animals
  • properly consider relevant legislation and professional guidance (such as that on the protection of wildlife and conducting field studies or farmed animal welfare standards) when planning activities
  • consider seeking approval of a local ethics committee, if appropriate

Animal welfare

UKRI is committed to ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare through the research and innovation we fund. High welfare standards contribute to animal wellbeing and towards ensuring research of high integrity.

In addition to the requirements of ASPA, UKRI expects and supports researchers to provide excellent care and welfare standards for animals used in research.

Providing the best welfare for animals requires consideration of the animals’ requirements from both a physical and social standpoint.

Research and innovation involving animals outside the UK

When funding research and innovation outside the UK that involves animals (for example through international collaborative research), UKRI requires that researchers establish and demonstrate that the legal, regulatory and welfare standards are consistent with those required in the UK and with the principles set out in the cross-funder guidance ‘Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research’.

In exceptional circumstances, where there are significant deviations from these welfare standards (for example, because the research necessitates them), prior approval from UKRI should be sought and agreed. All research and innovation conducted overseas must also comply with local rules and regulations in the relevant country.

Key principles

Research and innovation involving animals is tightly constrained by the law and researchers (grant holders and staff) share responsibility with veterinary and animal care staff for designing and conducting work in this area.

As well as fulfilling any legal responsibilities and following associated codes of practice, they are primarily responsible for applying the following principles.

The principles follow the 3Rs, which provide a framework for humane and high-quality research and innovation.

The 3Rs are embedded in national and international legislation and regulations on the use of animals in scientific procedures.

The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) provide an overview of the 3Rs principles, and why it is important that the scientific community considers them when planning and carrying out work that uses animals in research.

Key principles:

  • researchers are expected to give appropriate consideration to the 3Rs in any research and innovation involving animals that has the potential to cause the animals harm
  • researchers must also explain in any grant proposals (and in information provided to ethics committees) how they have taken the 3Rs into account
  • researchers and associated veterinary and animal care staff should adopt a culture of care with regard to the animals and stay abreast of developments in good practice and advances in the 3Rs
  • researchers and associated veterinary and animal care staff are expected to familiarise themselves with the NC3Rs resources and publications
  • everyone using animals, whether for experimentation, testing, tissue samples, or breeding and maintaining stock colonies, is responsible for ensuring high levels of welfare and protection
  • advice on animal welfare should be sought from the Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers, Named Veterinary Surgeons and, where appropriate, others with relevant animal welfare expertise
  • ethics committees are responsible for reviewing animal use at a local level and addressing situations where there is a risk that the use of animals may be in conflict with their best welfare interests
  • the committees have a key role in ensuring high standards. We recommend that the research establishment’s ethics committee, whether the Animal Welfare Ethical Review Body established under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 or otherwise, should be central to implementation of this guidance

UKRI policies and guidance

Guidance on the use of animals in research is issued by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). NC3Rs is funded by UKRI’s Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research

This guidance sets out the expectations of the funding bodies for the responsible use of animals in research. It applies to the use of any vertebrate animals and cephalopods (live animals or animal products).

Implementation of the principles in this guidance is a condition of receiving funds from the funding bodies, regardless of where in the world the research is conducted. The guidance is therefore useful for applicants and reviewers of research proposals.

Experimental design assistant (EDA)

The EDA is a free, secure online tool from the NC3Rs to help researchers design robust in vivo experiments, likely to yield reliable and reproducible results. The system uses computer-based logical reasoning to provide bespoke feedback on study designs, including dedicated support for randomisation, masking (blinding) and sample size calculation. The funding bodies recommend use of the EDA when preparing research proposals.

Sharing and archiving of genetically altered mice

Archiving genetically altered mouse strains reduces animal wastage and maintains genetic integrity, maximising data reproducibility. Cryopreserved resources are also often the best means of sharing genetically altered strains, providing further opportunities for reduction in animal use and minimising the need for strain duplication.

This guidance provides an overview of current best practice, highlighting the reduction and refinement opportunities from archiving and sharing.

NC3Rs resource hub: genetically altered mice

Information to help with the implementation of approaches to reduce and refine the use of genetically altered mice. This includes advice on good practice in colony management scenarios and strategies.

NC3Rs resource hub: non-human primate welfare

Information and resources to improve the welfare of non-human primates used in research, including guidelines, websites and events.

Non-human primate accommodation, care and use

These guidelines apply to any research involving the use of non-human primates, conducted in the UK or overseas. Implementation of the principles in the guidelines is a condition of receiving funds for non-human primate research. Compliance with the guidelines is assessed as part of NC3Rs’ involvement in the peer review processes of the funding bodies.

NC3Rs peer review and advice service

Research proposals involving the use of non-human primates, cats, dogs and equines and pigs are referred to the NC3Rs for 3Rs review. This helps to ensure that the animal welfare standards are genuinely high and exceed the legal minima, that overseas work is conducted to standards equivalent to those in the UK, and that experimental design is robust.

NC3Rs’ advice is used during decisions on funding and when drafting the terms and conditions of grant awards. Further information about the NC3Rs review process, including tips for applicants, is given on the NC3Rs website.

Additional questions on the use of animals overseas

As opportunities for UK-based researchers to collaborate with researchers overseas have increased, so too has the importance of ensuring that animal welfare standards are appropriate and equivalent to those in the UK.

UKRI requires applicants to complete additional questions on the use of rodents, rabbits, Xenopus and livestock species overseas (checklists) and to upload them with their application. A signed statement from both the UK and overseas principal investigators is also required.

Choosing contractors for animal research (PDF, 2.5MB)

A PDF presentation to advise applicants of the welfare standards expected by the funding bodies when contracting out animal studies. Applicants intending to place studies at contractors overseas are especially advised to view the presentation before choosing the contractor and submitting their application.

NC3Rs resource hub: wildlife research

Guidelines on handling animals in field studies and captive studies, including capture, handling and restraint, attaching tracking devices and collecting samples.

ARRIVE guidelines

UKRI stipulates that publications resulting from funded research should follow the ARRIVE guidelines. These reporting guidelines are a checklist of information to include in publications describing animal research. They apply to any study involving live animals, including invertebrates, in any area of the biosciences, to ensure that studies are reported in enough detail to add to the knowledge base.

This transparency enables readers and reviewers to scrutinise the research adequately, evaluate its methodological rigour, and reproduce the methods or findings.

Council guidance

Find out about the use of animals in research by UKRI’s councils:

UKRI terms and conditions

If you receive funding from UKRI you need to follow general terms and conditions for research grants or training funding, and any specific funding opportunity conditions.

Guidance on legislation

Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA)

Consolidated version of the Animals (Scientific Procedures Act) 1986, amended 2012 (ASPA). The ASPA regulates procedures carried out on ‘protected animals’ (vertebrates and cephalopods) for scientific or educational purposes that may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. The Act also regulates the breeding and supply of certain species of animals for research purposes, and the methods used to kill protected animals. The Act is administered by the Home Office in England, Scotland and Wales, and the Department of Health) in Northern Ireland.

Guidance on the Operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

This Home Office document explains how the ASPA is administered and enforced, and provides detailed guidance to holders of establishment, project and personal licences, as well as licence applicants.

Code of practice for the housing and care of animals bred, supplied or used for scientific purposes

This Home Office code of practice sets out the standards of animal accommodation and care required under the ASPA and provides advice on how to comply with these requirements.

Key animal research regulations for countries around the world

The AAALAC International website, listing key animal research regulations from countries around the world.

Concordats UKRI has signed

UKRI is committed to openness about research involving animals. We believe we have a duty to explain to the public, who fund our research, why and how animals are used.

UKRI is a signatory to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK, which commits those who signed to:

  • be clear about when, how and why we use animals in research
  • enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals
  • be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals
  • report on progress annually and share our experiences

The concordat is overseen by Understanding Animal Research (UAR). UAR is an organisation supported by UKRI whose aim is to achieve a broad understanding of the humane use of animals in research in the UK.

Last updated: 7 November 2023

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