Working With Experimental Animals (Part 1)

By Lola Brookes

To answer very complex questions regarding virulence, diversity and spread of chytridiomycosis, we have to be able to track the disease through the individual and populations. This means that our research does involve looking at amphibians that have been deliberately and directly infected with chytrids in controlled set ups, in laboratories.


The law in the UK has been devised to protect all living vertebrates (other than man), and cephalopods. It describes how to regulate the use of these protected animals in any experimental or other scientific procedure which may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animal. It does this through the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (A(SP)A), which allows research to be undertaken using animals for procedures such as breeding genetically modified animals, medical and veterinary advances, education, environmental toxicology, procedures requiring vivisection and in our case exposing individuals or populations to an infectious agent known to cause severe consequences.

The Secretary of State governs the A(SP)A and employs members of the Animal in Science Regulation Department (ASRU) within the Home Office to ensure the legislation is upheld. The regulated procedures covered by this Act are controlled using a triple licensing system enforced by the Home Office. These licenses ensure that: Firstly, the institution that the animals are held in (or work is undertaken by) is licensed, with a single person (the Establishment License Holder) taking sole responsibility of insuring all work and standards set by the Code of Practice are reached and exceeded where possible. Second, the Project Licence (PPL) holder is licensed to set out the methods of the research, the justification of  the research, to list what species, the numbers and the types of procedures that will be undertaken. Finally, that the individual who is doing the regulated procedures (also known as the Personal Licence Holder (PIL)) is licensed to undertake the research. Both the PIL and the PPL holders have to undertaken taught modules and written exams before they can be licensed.

The overarching message from the A(SP)A is to incorporate the 3R‘s into any research project. This means all work has to aim to reduce the number of animals used, refine the procedures used to lessen any pain or suffering (the severity levels), replace higher vertebrates with lower ones (Primates to Fish) and where possible to replace the use of animals completely with in-vitro experiments. The 3R’s need to be met and considered with the 5 freedoms in mind:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress.

The Codes of Practice dictate how to take care of these animals. It is an underlying principle of the A(SP)A that animals bred, supplied and used for scientific procedures are cared for in accordance with the best standards of modern animal husbandry.

So, that is all the legal side of the animal work we undertake, well, just an outline (all of the legal material is available on the Home Office website) and in terms of the everyday work we undertake, compliance with the principles of replacement, reduction and refinement. Amphibians fall under the act from the moment they can first feed, so frogs and toads, and tadpoles.


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