Areas we study

The types of animal research carried out at the university range from:

1. Fundamental biology

Fundamental biological and medical research helps us to identify key physiological mechanisms that control how our bodies work, effect health and disease and that could lead to medical breakthroughs in the future

2. Veterinary

To identify and develop ways of assessing welfare in order to influence standards of care in farms and improve care of sick animals, such as developing better pain relief in pet dogs with arthritis.

3. Translational

To develop better treatments for sick people or animals, such as implanting and testing new medical devices in farm species.

The types of studies our animals may be involved in include blood tests, behavioural studies and imaging. Other studies might involve surgery to implant monitoring devices that measure changes in the body, or new medical devices that could help save human lives.

Animals used in research

In 2020, the University carried out 22,681 scientific procedures using animals in research regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The vast majority of these involved rodents (48.3%) and fish (49.2%).

Due to SAR-CoV-2, the number of animals used for research in 2020 is lower than in previous years.  When the UK went into lockdown because of the pandemic in March 2020, animal research studies were reduced due to the risk to animal welfare if staff were taken ill or had to self-isolate. 

SpeciesProcedures PercentageUse
Mouse  9,772 48.3% Rodents play a vital role in helping us to answer a wide range of questions, including understanding fundamental aspects of our physiology, our genetic pathways and the mechanisms of disease that support the development of future medicines and treatments for both humans and animals.
Rat  1,188
Zebrafish  11,162 49.2% Zebrafish allow us to model the effects of cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoarthritis as well as to study the genetic changes that can contribute to these debilitating diseases. They are incredibly good at regenerating cells, tissues and organs, something that we cannot do. By studying how they are able to do this we hope to find better ways of treating people in the future.
Bat * 390 1.7% We study bats to assist with their conservation. Understanding their genetics could help us work out how we can protect them from the effects of global warming.
Pig  91 0.5% Pigs and sheep can help us develop new treatments and devices to benefit both human and animal health. Pigs are also used in studies of infectious disease to develop new vaccines for humans and better medicines for farm species in the future.
Sheep  14
Guinea pig  35 0.2% Guinea pigs are used as a source of tissues for the study of aspects of physiology that are important for improving patient treatment.
Rabbit  8 0.0% Rabbits are the most suitable species for our researchers to study important aspects of cardiac physiology that are key to improving our understanding and in the long-term patient treatment.
Horses, donkeys and cross-breeds (Equidae) * 21 0.1%

The development of new treatments for animal diseases can involve clinical trials using novel therapies given to animals under veterinary care.  Clinical trials are carefully controlled experiments designed to provide a clearer understanding of the benefits and any potential harms that may occur following treatment.  In the early stages of such research the novel treatments are carried out by veterinary surgeons under licence and are regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to ensure that the welfare of the animals is the primary consideration.

 * These procedures involved either client owned or wild caught animals which were then released at the end of the study.

Understanding our zebrafish and mice numbers

In 2020, 84% of our scientific procedures using zebrafish and 69% using mice, were related to the breeding of genetically altered (GA) animals not scientific experiments. Breeding of GA animals is regulated under UK law and is therefore counted like a scientific procedure.

  • GA animals are important because specific changes in their genetic make-up enable researchers to discover and understand relationships between genes, physiology, and disease.
  • Some of our research that benefits from the breeding of GA animals includes cancer, immunology, cardiology, osteoarthritis and human genetic disorders.
  • Complex breeding cycles across multiple generations are essential to create these new GA animals before they can be used in a scientific study.

Find out more about the breeding of genetically altered animals on the Understanding Animal Research website.

Procedures on zebrafish

Pie chart showing 84% of scientific procedures using zebrafish in 2020 were related to the breeding of genetically altered animals and 16% to scientific experiments.

Procedures on mice

Pie chart showing 69% of scientific procedures using mice in 2020 related to the breeding of genetically altered animals and 31% to scientific experiments.

Previous years

Facts about animal research

  • All animal research in the UK is regulated and inspected by the Home Office.
  • It is illegal in the UK and Europe to use animals in research if an alternative approach is available.
  • It is illegal in the UK and Europe to use animals to test cosmetics or their ingredients.
  • It is a legal requirement that all potential new medicines intended for human use are tested in two species of mammal before they are given to human volunteers in clinical trials.
  • The law states that all potential veterinary medicines must be safely tested in animals.
Image credit: University of Bristol
Image credit: University of Bristol
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