Why we use animals in research

Edinburgh Neuroscience is committed to being open about the use of animals in our research.

The brain and nervous system is an incredibly complicated structure. Understanding how it works is essential to appreciating how brain function is altered and what interventions might be effective in delivering relief.

While there a clear differences between the human and animal brains, there are striking similarities that make animal models effective for understanding complex human neurological disorders.  For example, the mouse gentic code is 85% identical to the human and many genes share 99% identity.  Therefore using animal models not only tells us how mice and humans are similar, it also informs us about their key differences.  Because of these similarities, much of what we know about complex brain processes, such as learning and memory, comes from our study of animals

Our researchers are committed to the principals of the 3Rs and so, where possible, they develop and use experimental approaches that Replace, Reduce or Refine animal use.  When they are used, our researchers use of animals is in line with strict UK government regulations.

How we have pioneered 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement)

Where possible we try to find alternative approaches to using animals, or adjust experimental design to reduce the number of animals being used, or make the experiment process more comfortable.  For instance, one of our dementia research groups has changed from injecting mice with a drug which allows them to study Alzheimers to feeding it to them in jelly, which the mice love.

Comparing experimental information from animal studies with work from cutting edge studies in human tissue is particularly important if we want to understand how nervous system activity in humans aligns or differs from the information we already have from previous animal research. This comparison allows us to better understand how interventions might translate into the human and better predict what might be beneficial.  For example, we are world leading in the development and use of iPSC technology, which uses stem cells derived from humans (often patients with severe degenerative conditions such as motor neurone disease) to understand how these cells behave and how they can be rescued.

Good reproducibity of results from the similar experiments undertaken by different research groups around the world is very important since it allows the research community to more quickly come to agreement on the outcome of experiments, meaning further confirmational animal studies would not be required. This isn't that easy though and the CAMARADES group in Edinburgh has pioneered the use of machine learning to rapidly collate and examine large numbers of similar experiments looking for consistency and consensus in outcome e.g. in stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson's experiments. As a result they are continually campaigning for better reporting of experimental design details, such as those that are known to reduce bias in experiments, so that comparisons of results from different research groups are more accurate.

How our animal models are essential in understanding brain diseases

Sometimes the problems we are investigating are so complex that they require the use of animal models. This could be because we want to look at the mechanisms that lead to memory storage and how this changes with ageing and in pathological conditions such as the dementias. Or it could be that we need to understand how spinal cord damage might be repaired.

  • Examples of our research that uses animal models will be made available here shortly.

University of Edinburgh openness in animal research

The university has a website with information about how and why we use animals in research. For more information about animal research at the University of Edinburgh, please visit: https://www.ed.ac.uk/research/animal-research