The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Manchester’s research under threat?

With animal rights campaigners attacking supply lines of animals for testing into the UK, is our research as a nation going to suffer?


Important medical research carried out at our University relies on animal testing, the majority of animals used being mice and rats.

All of this work is done under extremely tight regulation, and only when no alternative to animals are available. This research helps scientists to better understand terrible conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and cancer.

But for researchers doing this crucial work, things are getting harder. Recently the animal rights group PETA have announced that two of the world’s largest air carriers, FedEx and UPS, will no longer transport mammals for use in laboratories. This has followed months of pressure from animal rights groups, which have already succeeded in getting every ferry carrier into the UK to stop their transportation of laboratory animals, as well as many airlines.

It is not yet impossible for animals to be brought into the UK, but with all ferry links now cut and growing pressures for more airlines to follow suit, it soon may be. Animal transportation is crucial for research. Last week a petition has been started by researchers to ask the government to intervene, but should we care? Should students at a university in which this work is carried out be adding their voices to this campaign?

Crucially, allowing animals to be transported actually lowers the numbers of animals used. The majority of animals brought into the UK from abroad are needed because they have a specific genetic modification (that is, they are transgenic). For example, mice do not get Alzheimer’s disease, so to give a mouse symptoms that are similar to Alzheimer’s disease, they have genes introduced into their DNA that cause symptoms of Alzheimer’s . These mice can then be used for research. Making transgenic mice takes a long time, a lot of money, and a lot of mice. If someone else has already made such a mouse, transporting a few they have already bred will save a lot of unnecessary breeding of animals, time and money.

As well as reducing the numbers of animals used, limiting the transportation of animals will badly affect research carried out. Science budgets are tight, and researchers do not have enough money for them to easily shoulder this extra cost. Either they cannot afford to remake these transgenic animals, and the work isn’t done, or the money they use to do so is taken away from another part of research.

If it starts to become impossible for researchers at UK universities to have animals transported into the country, we will be less competitive compared to universities in countries where these animals are available. This could lead to researchers going abroad to carry out their work; and UK universities such as Manchester suffering as a result. As well as being bad for universities, this could be bad for animal welfare, as work may end up being done in countries where animal welfare legislation is not as stringent as our own.

A poll conducted this year for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills found that 85% of the general public in the UK support animal use in medical research, with conditions. Most people agree that when no alternative is possible, and where suffering of any animals used is limited as far as possible, animals should be used. We need to pressure the government to ensure this important research, which the majority of the public are behind, can continue. To do this, they need to get together with transport companies and agree together that animal transport will continue. This would mean that singular companies cannot be targeted by protesters as they have been now.

As for the campaigners who are pressuring these companies; there are far better uses of their time. Animal testing practices in the UK are not perfect, and campaigners would make a much better impact if they respected the general public’s support for this important research, whilst campaigning to improve practices. For example, if results for experiments using animals which did not prove a particular idea were more easily publishable (which does not happen currently) other researchers would not repeat this work unnecessarily. Professor of Neuroscience at Manchester University, Stuart Allan, comments “It has been very difficult in the past to publish negative data but thankfully some journals are beginning to change their practice and are now doing so. Hopefully others will follow suit which should reduce unnecessary repetition of experiments using animals. Drug companies could also release data that they have obtained using animals which could again prevent others repeating the same work.” If protesters focused on specific issues such as these, they could both reduce the number of animals used, and help research.

Students should support the researchers who work at our university to keep animal transport links open. Most importantly, blocking animal transport is not better for animals, as it will result in more animals being used. It will also have a detrimental impact on vital medical research; research done in laboratories such as those at the University of Manchester. If this research suffers, our reputation on a global scale will suffer too, which would be detrimental for all students at the university.

  • You can help to secure the future of medical science at Manchester and other top universities in the UK by clicking on the name above and signing the “Keep Research Afloat” petition.

  • Kevin Elliott

    I’ve recently had a couple of operations which could only have been developed with the help of animal research. The operations relieved some appalling pain, allowing me to hold down a job and work for a living, rather than staying on benefits.

    Let’s keep animal research legal.

  • alsn

    my mother died from cancer, shame we have wasted so much time and effort trying to find cures in mice, millions wasted on victorian animal research,

  • Alex J G

    Now I’m all for stopping unnecessary and pointless cruelty to animals, but if you are going to impose your moral self-righeousness on the rest of us, at least do it in a way that won’t prevent the development of life-saving and life-changing medicine for those suffering from serious medical condition such as Cancer, Alzheimer’s or Strokes.

    • Eh, there’s always a kid like that. I remebmer in my biology classes in grade 12 the guy who sat directly across from me would always talk about how at one of his parties his friends threw his dog off the balcony and how he didn’t care. It’s always questionable if these things even happen, so it’s not like you can report them for animal abuse without proof. The majority of the time they’re just yapping for attention. If you actually see some kind of proof that he’s doing it, obviously look into it more. The best thing you can do to shut people like that up is to not fuel their ego but getting all angry and defensive with them. They want people to get disgusted by their words, so they can seem superior because they’re not phased by it at all, not to mention the additional attention they receive from such negative words.

  • Mandi

    One major fault with this is that the majority of the general public don’t know or understand the methods that are used on animals, to test drugs and treatments. If you were to explain, in plain English, the methods used in animal testing and research, you would find a higher majority of people would be against it.
    They should publish negative findings but again, it should be done without the scientific jargon and in an open journal that the general public have access too.
    Surely it would be better for the University to be forerunners in developing new technologies (of which, there are plenty) to test these hypotheses rather than inflicting painful practices on animals?
    Giving an animal a disease that it would never naturally have is barbaric; creating these mutated species is just as abhorrent.
    They say ignorance is bliss but in the age of information, its just willful idiocy.

  • For Life On Earth

    Becky, you are ignoring up-to-date understanding of evolutionary biology and complexity science! A cross-party group of MPs are supporting the new campaign For Life On Earth (FLOE), with science illustrated by the leading medical experts against experiments on animals – experiments claimed as capable of predicting human responses. These experts are authors of five books to date, culminating in the seminal work Animal Models in Light of Evolution (2009) Shanks PhD and Greek MD. Please be aware, these experts SUPPORT the majority of ways animals are used in science (seven out of the nine main accepted ways animals are used in science are held as scientifically valid) opposing SOLELY the use of animals as claimed predictors of human response.

    You mention genetically modified mice as solving the prediction problems presented by millions of years of different evolutionary paths; please take the time to read this scientific blog summarising why altering genes in mice is FUTILE for the prediction problem faced by biomedical research today:

    MPs are also starting to support Parliamentary EDM 263 which calls for properly moderated public SCIENTIFIC debates on the misleading application of animal experiments for human medicine. It appears that you have agreed to take part in an erroneously titled ‘debate’ at your student Union in October, which pitches an animal rights philosophy lecturer against a pro-vivisection scientist, when science can NEVER be about morality – it is only ever about objectively verifiable factual evidence. Your forthcoming event will be easy prey to the experts who illustrate EDM 263’s scientific case.

    For Life On Earth is presented with the help of a Patient and Families Group, founded by 24 year old multiple sclerosis patient Rebecca Groves. I recommend that you take some time to watch their introductory video slide show, here

    Indeed, pharmaceutical companies acknowledge the failure of animal models in their drug development process and write about this openly in the scientific literature, please visit this link for extensive examples

    Rebecca, you are young and starting out in life. Don’t be fooled by your Universities financial dependency on the money made by animal experiments, clearly highlighted in your article above. Take the time to make sure you are up to speed with current understanding of evolutionary biology and the Trans-Species Modelling Theory [1].

    Last, but by no means least, visit the website that illustrates FLOE’s case Watch the science lecture on FLOE’s Home page and comb through our pages too. You will see we are careful to keep the personal issue of morality and animal ethics distinctly separate from up-to-date objectively verifiable scientific knowledge.
    Thank you for your time.

    [1] Greek, R. and L.A. Hansen, Questions regarding the predictive value of one evolved complex adaptive system for a second: exemplified by the SOD1 mouse Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, 2013: p.