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Using animals in research

We want to have the biggest impact for blood cancer patients. Because of this, we believe that using animals in research, in the right way, is the right thing to do.

As a significant funder of blood cancer research, our discoveries have done much to help understand different types of blood cancer and identify life-saving treatments. But there is much more to do before we can say we've achieved our mission of beating blood cancer.

We are a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and support their position statement on the use of animals in research. We recognise that not everybody is comfortable with the use of animals in research. It is not a decision we take lightly and we only fund high quality research that has been peer-reviewed by experts, where the benefits to health are significant and where there is no alternative. 

A considerable amount of research that we fund doesn't use animals. This type of research may include using cells and human tissue, modelling and human volunteers. But important questions about how biological systems work can sometimes only be answered by using animals.

Where animals are used we take the following steps:

  • We are committed to supporting UK legislation focused on replacing, reducing and refining animal use in research by
    • Replacing the use of animals with alternative methods or avoiding their use altogether
    • Reducing the number of animals used in experiments
    • Refining research methods to minimise suffering and improve animal welfare
  • All our research grant holders adhere to the code of practice on the housing and care of animals as required by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
  • We are a signatory to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research which sets out how organisations report the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK.

Frequently asked questions about the use of animals in research

Does Blood Cancer UK fund research on animals?

While the majority of research that we support does not require animals, the use of animals is necessary in some cases to increase our understanding of how blood cancers work, to devise better ways to detect and diagnose blood cancers, and to develop lifesaving treatments.

How do you protect the welfare of the animals used in your research?

As well as being a legal and ethical requirement, good animal welfare is crucial for good quality scientific results. Our expert evaluation processes ensure that any research we fund causes the minimum possible suffering to animals. We work with the Association of Medical Research Charities to regularly review our practice.

We also work with universities and research institutes where research using animals takes place and with bodies responsible for the regulation of research involving animals. The Home Office is responsible for regulating animal procedures in the UK, to ensure that research using animals is performed to the highest possible welfare standards. Each person, place and project has to have an appropriate licence to carry out the work, and must adhere to the code of practice on the housing and care of animals required by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. In addition all of our research using animals has been approved by an appropriate local ethics committee.

What animals are used in the research that you fund?

Our research that does involve animals mostly uses mice, but we also use other animals like fruit flies and zebrafish. While larger mammals such as cats, dogs and monkeys are necessary for research into other medical conditions, these animals are not generally used in research into blood cancers.

What proportion of your research involves animals?

The majority of the projects that we fund do not involve any element of animal research. While our research portfolio is constantly evolving, currently three in every ten of our projects use animals in some way.

As animals and humans are so different, surely no research using animals will have any value for humans?

Scientists understand that humans and other animals are not exactly the same, and any finding from research involving animals need to be carefully checked in humans before any new treatment or medical test can be introduced. But there are remarkable similarities between humans and animals. All mammals, including humans, have the same major organs that work in the same way and are composed of the same cell types, controlled via the bloodstream and nervous system. We share 95% of our DNA with mice and 89% with zebrafish. While the significant differences between humans and other animals are obvious to all of us, these similarities mean there is much we can learn from research using animals.

Why don’t you use alternatives to animals for research?

Where alternatives to using animals in research are available that can answer research questions effectively, they are used. All research using animals must pass an ethical evaluation by the Home Office to decide whether it is justified so that it will take place only when there is no alternative technique and the expected benefits outweigh any possible adverse effects. We support UK legislation that promotes the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research and scientists are looking for new ways to do that.

What is your response to arguments that animal research is pointless?

Survival rates for many blood cancers have more than doubled in the last 40 years. Without research involving animals that would not have been possible. Although we fund research into all types of blood cancer, we started our work to help children with leukaemia. Research using animals has helped children with leukaemia enormously, with more than 8 in 10 children now surviving leukaemia, compared to around 1 in 10 when we began our work in 1960.