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Top UK university pledges reform to ‘change the culture’ of its animal research

[Update 3 February: the article was updated with Michelle Thew’s comments.]

One of the UK’s leading universities today outlined a “wholesale reform” of the ethical review and governance of its animal research, following criticisms last year.

Imperial College London was subject to an independent review of its management of laboratory animals after an undercover investigation from anti-vivisectionists produced allegations of malpractice. That review found a high quality of animal husbandry but also concluded that animal-research facilities were understaffed and that Imperial’s systems for management, training and ethical review were not adequate.

In an action plan released today in response to the review, the college pledged to recruit more staff, to “implement wholesale reform” of its Animal Welfare Ethical Review Body and to employ a new Director of Bioservices as part of a new governance structure. Imperial will also do more to promote the ‘3Rs’ of animal research: replacement, reduction and refinement.

“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,” said Dermot Kelleher, dean of Imperial’s Faculty for Medicine, in a statement.

Michelle Thew, head of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection — the London-based group behind the undercover work which produced the original allegations — said Imperial “appears to have taken the recommendations of the Brown report seriously and is prepared to make organisational changes”. But Thew says it is unclear exactly what the increase in staff will entail, and what steps will be taken to “ensure that non-animal methods are properly explored”.


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