Imperial endorses Culture of Care plan to guide next 10 years of animal research

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Photo of a scientist inside an animal research facility. She has her back to the camera and stands in front of a bank of rat houses.

Inside Imperial's animal research facilities

A new roadmap aims to help Imperial maintain its sector-leading care and excellence in animal research and ensure it remains an exemplar for others.

Ten years after the launch of its first Action Plan for world-class animal research, Imperial College London is moving ahead with a renewed strategy to guide the next ten years in this field.

The new Culture of Care plan will provide a framework to guide Imperial actions to inspire the 3Rs - replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals – among Imperial researchers and technicians as well as set an example for scientific excellence worldwide.

Through the plan, Imperial also aims to educate future generations about animal research and promote transparency around 3Rs technologies and the future of animal research.

Imperial’s plan was announced at the first Understanding Animal Research Openness Conference in the West Midlands, which celebrated the 10th anniversary of the world's first agreement on transparency about animal research. Imperial was among the first signatories to this Concordat in 2014 [see sidebar].

Professor Mary Ryan, Vice Provost (Research and Enterprise) and Establishment Licence Holder for Imperial, says:

“Imperial’s mission is to carry out world-leading research and education for the benefit of society. As Establishment Licence Holder, I know that reducing, replacing, and refining our use of animals should always be the priority when planning and undertaking scientific experiments involving animals.

“As a world-leading medical research institution, animal research forms a small but vital part of Imperial’s biomedical research programme. It is important that we talk about how animal studies are conducted and regulated clearly and openly, to show how this work contributes to medical advances and to dispel misconceptions.

“Looking back over the last decade, I am particularly pleased to see that the Imperial Animal Research community continues to lead the way for openness and transparency.”

The creation of a new ‘Imperial 3Rs Hub’ website, to be launched later in 2024, will be instrumental in delivering key elements of the plan, providing resources to those outside Imperial as well as the internal community. It will consolidate teaching modules in the use of animals for scientific procedures to undergraduate and taught-postgraduate students in biomedical subjects; best practice examples and ethical resources for researchers; and expert advice on replacement technologies for policy makers and the international scientific community.

The importance of ethical animal research

The use of animals in research is essential to improve human health, and Imperial is committed to ensuring that all animals in its care are treated with the utmost respect, and that the research is performed to the highest international standards.

Cake in the shape of a 10. Word sread: a decade of openness on animal research
Charity Understanding Animal Research celebrates ten years of openness with a cake at their conference

A wide range of important health and medical advances to date have only been possible by using animal research at Imperial.

For example, studies in mice have shown that the brain’s ability to rid itself of toxins may actually be reduced during sleep, an important finding for human diseases as disrupted sleep is a common symptom experienced by people living with dementia.

Researchers elsewhere at Imperial uncovered why people are more likely to have heart arrhythmia first thing in the morning. Here, an important study with mice helped to understand why the electrical activity of the heart shows an important day-night rhythm and why the heart is vulnerable to different arrhythmias at different times of the day or night.

Building ten years of momentum

Imperial’s 3Rs programme has celebrated a number of milestones, including: recognition of 3Rs projects in the President’s PhD scheme; established a network of 3Rs PhD students; created a digitised ‘tissue sharing’ service; and improved 3Rs visibility through sponsoring seminars.

The university’s first Action Plan for world-class animal research, which launched in 2014, has received several awards and the university was awarded a Leader in Openness Award for the second time in 2022 and the Openness Award for our social media campaigns in 2023.

“The Imperial community has worked hard in the past 10 years to promote a shift in our Culture of Care,” said Dr Anna Napolitano, who manages Imperial’s Replacement, Refinement and Reduction (3Rs) programme and presented at the Openness Conference.

“Thanks to our efforts, Imperial world-class animal research is a positive example of good practice, and inspiration for others.”


Anna Napolitano

Anna Napolitano
Office of the Provost

Simon Levey

Simon Levey
Communications Division

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