Imperial College has published a new “Action plan for world class animal research”. This follows allegations made last April by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) that the College was involved in unethical animal research. This led to College setting up an independent committee – led by Professor Steve Brown, Director of the Medical Research Council’s Mammalian Genetics Unit at Harwell – to investigate the treatment of animals at Imperial. Reporting in December, the committee “commended the College’s animal care staff and the standards of husbandry” but criticised the support and leadership structure in the field of animal research. Professor Brown commented that: “Our investigation identified a number of serious concerns on the conduct, management and oversight of animal research at Imperial College. … Imperial College is internationally recognised as one of the world’s best research institutes and it is important that this is matched by its standards of animal use and welfare.” The College has says that it fully accepts the findings of the Brown Report and that the new Action Plan takes into account its Brown’s recommendations. The Plan focuses on strengthening the College’s commitment to the “replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research (3Rs)”, with animals only being used in research “when there is no alternative, and when their use is shown to be essential for creating new knowledge, making scientific and medical advances and developing new treatments”. The College has committed to recruiting a new Director of Bioservices and the formation of a Central Biomedical Services (CBS) Board. The Director and Board will oversee all research involving animals. They will be responsible for making such research more open and accountable, and putting in place a stronger ethical review process. They will also liaise with the existing Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB), which will be given new staff and have its remit strengthened. Sub-branches of the AWERB will also be established in individual labs and research groups to allow closer contact with researchers. It is hoped that this new support and oversight structure will help staff working with animals identify how to best achieve the 3Rs and ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are maintained. Special training will be also be provided to make staff understand the importance of staying within the terms of the Home Office animal experimentation licenses. The Report states that the College hopes that these changes will benefit “Imperial’s aim of being an international leader in animal research”, which it considers to be “essential for improving human and animal health and welfare”. The CBS board has been instructed to produce a report by the end of the year detailing the College’s progress towards these goals. Professor Dermot Kelleher, Dean of Imperial’s Faculty for Medicine and Vice President (Health), said: “In the past few months we have engaged widely in search of best practice for managing world-leading, complex multi-site animal research facilities. I am grateful to colleagues across the UK for sharing their expert advice and hope that our action plan may also help the broader community in strengthening its work in this area. Imperial’s new action plan will change the culture towards animal research at the College, by improving the way we manage this work in a clear, accountable and transparent way, finding more ways of applying the 3Rs, and strengthening our investment in how we assess and review research proposals. Our aim remains to deliver world class research for the benefit of humans and animals, whilst treating all our animals with full respect and the highest standards of care.”
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