We are proud of all the work that we do at the Crick, and animals play a key role in many of our research projects.
Our scientists are working to understand the fundamental biology underlying health and disease, using a range of techniques to answer key biological questions.
Roughly half of our research groups address their research questions using yeast, human tissue, cell cultures, computational methods, or invertebrate animals such as flies or nematode worms. Others have questions that need to complement these methods with research on vertebrate animals such as mice and fish, for example to study the effects of certain genes on development, immunological responses to disease or molecular pathways in tumour metastasis.
We recognise that research can cause suffering to our animals, and this ethical dilemma underlines the importance of weighing up the potential benefits against the potential harms of each research project. Animal research cannot be conducted if the same research could be done using non-animal research methods or if it would cause unnecessary harm to the animals, so every project is subject to ethical and legal oversight.
The main animals we use in biomedical research at the Crick are mice and zebrafish, and the majority of those are genetically altered in order to explore functions of single genes or whole pathways in various diseases. We also maintain the only UK colony of laboratory opossums, which are used for sex chromosomes studies, and a few frogs for developmental biology research.
We keep a small number of ferrets to study flu, as they are the only animals that catch the same flu viruses as humans. They are used by the World Health Organisation Worldwide Influenza Centre here at the Crick, which helps to develop flu vaccines and identify potentially pandemic strains. We sometimes use rats for neuroscience research, and various research groups at Crick use fertilised chicken eggs to study development and incubate flu viruses.
Why we use animals
Research using animals has contributed to many of the medical advances we now take for granted. These include vaccines and antibiotics to prevent and treat infections, anaesthetics used in surgery, and treatments for a range of serious conditions including cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Although advances in alternative methods have reduced the need to use animals for some experiments, our bodies are incredibly complex and many systems are impossible to recreate artificially. Our scientists still need to use animals to study a wide range of conditions including cancer, infectious diseases and developmental problems.
We pay close attention to discussions about the value of scientific results from animal studies, and we know that all research methods have their uses and limitations. We constantly question the validity of our animal models, however, our scientists continue to get meaningful results from research involving animals.
Caetano Reis e Sousa and his team are studying ways that the immune system could be harnessed to target and destroy cancer cells.
Their work with mice in the the Biological Research Facility has the potential to deliver more effective treatments and new vaccines for cancer and infectious diseases in the future.
Find out more about the vital role that animal research plays in his work at the Crick in this video from Wellcome.
We strive to keep our animals as comfortable as possible and minimise the suffering caused. We encourage initiatives to constantly improve, such as an open database to reduce mouse use through data sharing, a 'smart house' that allows scientists to study mouse behaviour with minimal disturbance, and a stem cell model for motor neuron disease as an alternative to mice.
All research using animals is governed by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act managed by the Home Office, a branch of the UK government. Please see our licensing and ethical review page for more information on how we apply the law to ensure that all projects are done ethically with the highest standards of animal welfare. The page also explains how we ensure that scientists follow the principles of the ‘3Rs’: replacing animal research with non-animal alternatives; using the least number of animals needed to get meaningful results and getting more information from those animals that are used; and refining experiments to minimise harm and discomfort to the animals.