Facts and figures

Studies involving animals are only a small part of our overall programme of medical and scientific research.

Most of our research is carried out using techniques such as cell and tissue culture, molecular biology, computer modelling and the study of samples from humans.

This approach provides us with opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of health and disease, leading to the development of novel treatments and therapies to alleviate symptoms.

We only use animals where no other alternatives are available. Wherever possible we use species of the lowest neurophysiological sensitivity.

The vast majority of our animal research involves zebrafish, mice and rats. Breeding and maintenance of genetically altered animals is classed as a procedure and therefore the vast majority of our procedures returned to the Home Office each year are a record of those breeding programmes. Most other procedures involve standard injections or blood sampling.

If animals undergo surgery, they get anaesthetics just like human patients. Pain killers are given where appropriate and pain must always be minimised.

We gather data on the number of procedures performed using animals (Figure 1) each year and these are submitted to the Home Office. We also gather information on what is known as the actual severity (Figure 2) that each animal has experienced throughout the course of its experimental life.

Species 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012
Fish 57726 59564 44306 56165 44424
Mice 24132 21294 20828 13991 17482
Birds 274 1111 1014 639 1229
Rats 821 404 986 861 615
Rabbits 40 66 53 14 17
Gerbils 20 43 18 39 40
Squirrels 93 0 0 0 0
Pigs 24 30 31 10 0
Ferrets 0 0 0 4 0

Table 1: Annual animal usage at the University of Sheffield

The categories are:

  • sub-threshold, denoting an animal that has not suffered, i.e. this could be a genetically altered animal that has been part of a breeding programme
  • mild, for example removal of blood, similar to what may happen when you visit the nurse
  • moderate, an example would be a surgical procedure such as vasectomy
  • severe, this category is the highest in the UK and is only allowed when the science has been well justified to ensure that any suffering is of short duration, an example may be a model that develops a neurological disorder e.g. multiple sclerosis
  • non-recovery, this classification is reserved for those animals that undergo a procedure under terminal anaesthesia.

Most of our animal research falls within the sub-threshold and mild categories and this is achieved through stringent ethical review prior to any animal being used in our research.

Total number of regulated procedures, 2015-2016

Figure 1: total number of regulated procedures, 2015-2016

Figure 2: actual severity, 2015-2016

Figure 2: actual severity, 2015-2016