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  2. Governance
  3. Ethics
  4. Animal Research
  5. Frequently asked questions

Frequently asked questions

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  1. What is the OU policy on research involving animals?
  2. How many animals, and what species of animals, are used in research at the OU?
  3. What procedures have been carried out on animals at the OU?
  4. Were all the animals killed humanely before the procedures were carried out?
  5. What happens to the animals at the end of the research?
  6. What advance in knowledge has the OU achieved as a result of animal research?
  7. Where do the animals come from?

1. What is the OU policy on research involving animals?

The Open University uses animals in research only where no alternatives are available and we always look for ways to reduce the numbers of animals used. However, until effective alternative models are available, some animals will continue to be needed in research. We follow strict guidance and regulations to maximise the welfare of any animals used in our research.

Our research is scrutinised by our Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body whose membership includes lay members as well as academics and experts in animal care and welfare. The AWERB reviews research applications and decides whether our research is significant enough to justify animal use and that due consideration has been given to the welfare of animals.

Scientists at the OU carry out both Home Office licenced research and non-licenced research that does not fall under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act. Non-licenced research includes research on animals’ interaction with their environments and on the use of technology to improve the lives of animals and humans.

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2. How many animals, and what species of animals, are used in research at the OU?

The number of animals used varies considerably between years, as it depends on the projects that are being undertaken, which in turn depends on the availability of grant funding.

Researchers collaborate as much as possible so as to share the benefits of, for example, tissue extracted from a single animal.

The numbers for the past few years are as follows:

Year Number of rats Number of mice

2014

30

191

2015

123

319

2016

238

574

2017

101

483

2018

30

478

2019

106 247

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3. What procedures have been carried out on animals at the OU?

There are a range of procedures including:

  • Breeding and maintaining animals, including genetically modified animals, that model human diseases
  • Use of different diets, or food restriction, to examine how this affects ageing and other processes
  • The administration of substances such as drugs so as to observe their effects on behaviour or metabolism
  • The extraction of tissue and/or cells, including blood, for subsequent biochemical, cytological or genetic analysis
  • Aseptic surgery from which the animals recover
  • Aseptic surgery, including perfusion for tissue collection, from which the animals do not recover 

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4. Were all the animals killed humanely before the procedures were carried out? If not, how do you minimise pain and distress for the animals?

For some procedures the animals have to be killed humanely before the procedure; for example, tissue extraction from the gut or brain. However, for some research, such as the effect of diet, or of drugs on behaviour, the animals have to be alive. The animals are closely monitored and if they show signs of pain and distress they will be killed humanely.

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5. What happens to the animals at the end of the research?

Any animals still alive at the end of a project would normally be killed humanely unless they can be used for other projects. Laboratory animals will be re-homed where possible.

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6. What advance in knowledge has the OU achieved as a result of animal research?

Animal models are used in the following research areas to make advancements in knowledge:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
    This is a psychiatric condition that can ruin people’s lives. Despite being one of the most studied psychiatric condition, its causes are poorly understood. One of our projects seeks to establish what part of the brain underlies the condition, and to investigate the effects of drugs on that part of the brain in an effort to contribute to ways to help sufferers.
  • Changes in the aged and Diseased Brain
    As the population starts to live longer, the diseases of old age become more prevalent. Chief amongst these is Alzheimer’s disease. OU scientists are using animal models to investigate fluid flows across the brain; such research provides essential information which can be used to develop new treatments, and, it is hoped, in the long term, cures.
  • Pathogenesis of Huntington’s Disease
    Huntington’s disease is caused by a genetic mutation in a single gene that produces a toxic protein. Humans develop symptoms in early middle age; these symptoms are progressive and invariably fatal. There is a growing awareness that the brains of people with the mutation are affected long before the disease manifests itself. OU scientists are seeking to understand these early changes so as to identify drug targets which could slow or halt the progression of the disease.

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7. Where do the animals come from? If sourced from outside the OU what means are there to assure the welfare of those animals?

The University sometimes breeds mice and rats. If and when other animals are needed, we are supplied by reputable licenced suppliers who are committed to animal welfare and ethics.

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