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University Biomedical Services (UBS)


Q. What is Animal Research?

Animal research plays an essential role in our understanding of health and disease and in the development of medical treatments. Without the use of animals, we would not have many of the modern medicines, antibiotics, vaccines and surgical techniques that we take for granted in both human and veterinary medicine. Some of the important and pioneering work for which Cambridge is best known and which has led to major improvements in people’s lives was only possible using animals, from the development of IVF techniques through to human monoclonal antibodies.
 It includes pure research (such as genetics, developmental biology, and behavioural studies) as well as applied research (such as biomedical research and drug testing). Although animals will play a role in biomedical research for the foreseeable future, we aim to use the minimum number possible. Our researchers are actively looking at ways to help refine their science and to reduce – and ultimately replace – the use of animals in research.

Q. How is UBS involved in animal research within the University of Cambridge?

All of our animal facilities now come under a single organisation, University Biomedical Services (UBS). The internal administration of Home Office Licencing is performed in this department where Project and Personal Licences are processed. Animal research is strictly regulated in the UK and a high level of animal welfare is required. Animal researchers and technicians must understand this law and make sure it is adhered to, as well as trying to improve the quality of life for laboratory animals. The theoretical training for this is completed in UBS Training School.

The research in UBS is conducted in Home Office Designated facilities where we place welfare at the centre of all our animal research and aim to meet the highest standards for a culture of care: good animal welfare and good science go hand-in-hand. Our research is scrutinised by the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body, who strive to reduce the number of animals used, refine experimental research and where possible replace animals.

Q. What is required to become an animal researcher/ technician?

Animal researchers or research scientists devise and conduct experiments in order to increase the body of scientific knowledge on topics related to medicine, health or disease. They also develop new, or improve existing, drugs, treatments or other medically related products.

The level of research may be basic and involve investigating the underlying basis of health or disease or it may be more applied and include conducting clinical research, investigating methods of prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disorders.

Research may be at the molecular level, carried out using appropriate cell and animal models may be used to study the clinical effects of various factors in areas of research such as:

  • neurosciences;
  • physiology;
  • pharmacology;
  • cancer studies;
  • microbiology;
  • genomics;
  • bioinformatics;
  • biotechnology;
  • stem cell research.

The specifics of the role vary according to the setting, but much of the work is usually laboratory-based. Tasks typically include:

  • planning and conducting experiments and analysing or interpreting the results;
  • keeping accurate records of work undertaken;
  • using specialist computer software to analyse data and to produce diagrammatic representation of results;
  • teaching and supervising students (in higher education);
  • writing and submitting applications and progress reports to funding bodies that support medical research (outside industry);
  • discussing research progress with other departments, e.g. production and marketing (in industry);
  • constantly considering the profit/loss potential of research products (in industry);
  • collaborating with industry, research institutes, hospitals and academia.

Medical research scientists are also concerned with disseminating the results of their work to others. This includes:

  • sharing the results of research with colleagues through presentations or discussions at team meetings;
  • preparing presentations and delivering these at national and international scientific conferences;
  • writing original papers for publication in peer-reviewed medical or scientific journals. (In industry, there is usually less pressure to publish.)

Scientists also need to keep up to date with other research being carried out in, or related to, their field of study. Activities that enable them to stay in touch with developments and advances in their field include:

  • reading relevant scientific literature and journals;
  • attending scientific meetings and conferences in order to hear presentations from other researchers and participate in informal discussions with scientists from other parts of the world.

An animal technician is responsible for the care and welfare of laboratory animals used in scientific and medical research therefore some understanding of the science is required. Some technologists at certain levels are also directly involved in experimental work with Home Office Licenses. The majority of animals used are rats and mice, but other species may be needed. The different requirements of each species and each set of experiments means the working environment varies considerably.

Animal technicians are in daily contact with animals, therefore much of the work involves routine tasks essential to the care and welfare of the animals, including:

  • cleaning cages, pens, trays, equipment and fittings;
  • feeding and watering animals;
  • handling and moving animals safely;
  • administering medicines;
  • checking the environment (for example, temperature and humidity);
  • monitoring the condition of animals and recognising and resolving any behavioural problems;
  • obtaining samples and measurements;
  • collecting and recording data;
  • ensuring animals are kept clean and comfortable;
  • help to breed animals especially for use in research;
  • monitor pregnancies, care for newborn animals and measure weight gain and growth;
  • carrying out and dosing, health assessment and sampling techniques.

Q. What is the role of the Home Office in animal research within the University of Cambridge?

The Inspectorate operates the licensing system on behalf of the Secretary of State under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). It authorises applications for new licences and certificates; authorises amendments to existing Licences; and revokes or varies licences and certificates as necessary, following advice from the Inspectorate, and sometimes from the Animal Procedures Committee. Inspectors are responsible for instigating executive action when there has been significant non-compliance. They also arrange the collection of annual fees from designated establishments and of annual statistical returns of procedures from project licence holders.