The Medical Research Council (MRC) is strongly committed to animal welfare. This means:
- housing animals well
- ensuring their environment provides them with opportunities to exhibit natural behaviours
- looking after their psychological wellbeing
- keeping them in good physical health.
For research procedures, it means regularly refining techniques so that they cause the minimum discomfort, and using anaesthetic and painkillers for the small percentage of invasive procedures, such as surgery, so that animals experience minimal pain.
The quality of housing and husbandry has a major impact on laboratory animal health and welfare. High standards of welfare in turn have a bearing on the research itself – unhealthy animals make for poor science. MRC ensures that housing allows animals to perform the widest possible range of normal, species-typical behaviour. Consideration is given not only to the quality of accommodation but also the quantity of space provided.
Different species have different requirements, and an animal’s natural habitat and behaviour is taken into consideration in order to provide appropriate accommodation.
Where appropriate, all animals are housed in compatible social groups and provided with extensive environmental enrichment. For example, mice and other rodents are provided with containers and tubes made of cardboard and plastic, nesting material and wood for gnawing. Macaques are provided with climbing apparatus and special feed which is scattered onto the litter to encourage foraging behaviour.
Highly-trained animal technicians
The day-to-day care of animals at MRC is provided by highly trained animal technicians who take their responsibilities to the animals, the scientists and the UK Home Office legislation very seriously. They are responsible for providing the highest standards of care for the animals, and work with the researchers to ensure that the science is also of the highest quality.
MRC is also committed to ensuring a high standard of training and education for animal technicians and support staff at all stages of their careers.
Continuous professional development (CPD) for biological services staff includes various formal and informal learning, training and experiences: competency based qualifications allow training specific to the individual and their work while Open University and Institute of Animal Technology (IAT) qualifications deliver a wide knowledge of laboratory animal science and a good background in biological sciences.
Technicians are also encouraged to spend time in research labs in order to gain hands-on experience of experimental procedures, and attend workshops and seminars held regularly on a variety of laboratory animal science related subjects. Visits to other scientific establishments, symposiums and international meetings are also organised which enable technicians to gain experience in more varied aspects of laboratory animal husbandry and science.
Apprenticeship Development Scheme
In 2015, MRC completed a pilot scheme to develop and implement an animal technician apprenticeship and this has now been taken up by other employees in the animal technology industry.
MRC has organised its facilities so that the best possible scientific results are gained from our work with animals. Animal technologists are therefore required not only to train in husbandry skills and implement a culture of care but to also receive scientific training to understand both the animal and scientific requirements.
Named veterinary surgeon (NVS) and named animal care and welfare officer (NACWO)
Animals at MRC establishments are inspected at least once daily in compliance with the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). It is a legal requirement under the act for designated establishments to have a NVS on call 24 hours a day, to provide advice and ensure the wellbeing of individual animals and whole colonies.
Every designated establishment must also have a NACWO who must ensure that the husbandry and care of animals are practised to the highest standards. The NVS works closely with the NACWO, authorised by the Home Office and independent from the scientific research, to make certain that the care and welfare of animals is monitored in accordance with ASPA.
Last updated: 17 August 2023