Frequently Asked Questions about the DHT and alternatives to animal experimentation


1 - Does the DHT fund research into all Three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animals used in medical research)?


No - The DHT was established to support and promote medical research that has the potential to replace experiments on animals. The DHT does not fund any work that aims to ‘Reduce’ or ‘Refine’ animal use.


We exclusively fund non-animal research techniques to replace animal experiments, benefiting people and animals.



2 - Why Replacement only?


Replacement is the only one of the Three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) that brings about technological innovation, advances medical progress, and provides an alternative to laboratory animals.



3 - What does the DHT aim to achieve with its research programmes?


To conduct medical research and safety testing without using living animals. The DHT believes that excellence in medical research can and should be pursued without animal experiments.



4 - What is the DHT’s research budget per annum?


The available budget for research grants varies from year to year, depending on a number of factors including our existing grant commitments. As a guide, over the past 3 years we have awarded between £500,000 and £750,000 to new grants per year.



5 - What types of animals are used?


Many different animal species are used for animal experiments around the world including rats, mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, cats, dogs, (mini-pigs), primates, goats, sheep, birds, fish etc. For a full list please visit 'Facts and Figures' which shows the latest statistics on UK animal use.



6 - What do the animal experiments involve?


The experiments animals are used for are wide-ranging but can involve and are not limited to:


  • safety (toxicity) testing


  • disease/wound infection and healing


  • application of skin/eye irritants


  • food/water/sleep deprivation


  • brain damage


  • surgical damage


  • induced organ failure


  • genetic modification



7 - What are animal experiments for?


Broadly speaking, animals are used in research to potentially further our understanding and treatment of human diseases, and in basic research to expand our knowledge of how the human body works.


Animals will also be used to test and develop consumer and industry products: these can include dental products, cosmetics, household cleaners, food additives and colourings, food products, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, industrial and agro-chemicals.



8 - Do animals suffer in experiments?


Yes, any experiment (known officially as a procedure, as many procedures may be undertaken to complete one experiment) on a living animal needs to be licensed and reported by the UK government if it has had the potential to cause “pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.”



9 - How can we replace animal experiments?


There is a range of different methods that can be used to replace animal experiments. These include:


Cell Culture


  • It is possible to get human cells from tissues obtained from biopsies, placentas, or as waste from surgery, and grow them in the laboratory. Cell cultures are used in many medical and scientific fields, and have contributed enormously to our understanding of the underlying mechanisms of disease. Cell cultures are routinely used in toxicity testing, drug development and to diagnose and understand disease.


  • Cells taken from a human source are grown in plastic ‘dishes’ so that they can be used to experiment on without harming the original ‘source’. These cells could be from any part of the body and could be ‘normal’ or diseased. Researchers use these systems to better understand what is occurring in the cells when they are diseased.


Molecular Methods – Genomics/Proteomics/Metabolomics


  • Technological advances are resulting in new and improved molecular methods for analysing and identifying new compounds and medicines. Drugs can be selected based on their molecular interaction with DNA and the genetic response to drugs by monitoring changes in protein production, as an alternative to selecting drugs by animal tests. Research at the molecular level is being used to understand the biochemistry and genetics underlying various illnesses, and leading to better treatments.


  • Cells can be genetically altered to over- or under-produce a protein of interest to see how this change affects the cell. This could be to identify something that has changed that could be causing a disease state or in response to a treatment.


  • Newer technologies are allowing researchers to use this technology not just for individual cells, but look in larger entities such as amoeba and plants.


  • Analytical Technologies: These can be defined as methods or technologies that are looking for changes in the expression or production of genetic or protein markers. Mass Spectrometry (MS) can be used to look for changes in protein expression or Microarray Profiling (MA) would look for changes in gene expression.




  • Tests with simple microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeasts, are being used as early indicators of chemicals likely to be harmful, and are frequently faster, cheaper and more humane than animal tests. Bacteria can be genetically manipulated to manufacture useful products previously obtained from animals, such as human insulin and monoclonal antibodies.


Computer Models


  • Computers are increasingly being used to model the structure and actions of new drugs, and to predict their safety. Computer models of whole biological systems are now being developed on which experiments can be conducted, as alternatives to experiments on animals.


Population Research


  • Studying the diseases in human populations, and the effects of lifestyle, diet and occupation has already revealed a great deal about disease and ‘lifestyle’ diseases in particular. Such information is vital to improving human health and providing clues to the causes of illnesses.


  • There are two main types of population studies, external and internal. External studies look for external/environmental factors that affect humans, internal studies look for genetic differences that affect humans.


  • Studies could include looking at the effect of lifestyle or environment on the population or looking at the small changes in genes between people that give rise to different sensitivities to diseases or drug responses.


Volunteer Studies


  • One of the best ways to conduct medical research is by studying the whole human being. New scanning and imaging techniques are making it increasingly possible to conduct safe and ethical studies of human volunteers, where previously animals had been used.


  • Research uses a variety of sophisticated imaging techniques to non-invasively investigate the intact human body. These include using a MEG scanner to study epileptic patients; investigating pain in patients with fMRI; and developing a novel technique, TMS, to study the function of the human brain in healthy volunteers.


  • Post Mortem Studies: Tissues taken from donors are used in a wide variety of studies, which depend on the tissue type taken. Most often the cells or a particular tissue are grown in culture so that several studies can be conducted on them that would not be possible on just the initial tissue sample. Whole organs can be used for medical research such as lung-perfusion studies to look at aerosol uptake from inhaled drugs etc.



10 - How can you replace the reactions of a whole animal in a test tube or a cell culture?


Non-animal research rarely simply replaces like for like. Instead we use a different approach in order to replicate the whole body scenario, replacing each type of animal experiment with a whole range of non-animal techniques that are used in combination.


When it comes to studying the “whole animal” it is wrong to assume that animals are the best choice, or that they are necessary to solve every medical problem. The ethical clinical study of the whole relevant organism — humans — is much more useful and relevant than an animal model.


Even in animals, usually what you are looking for is an individual piece of information, e.g. what effect is this having on the liver/kidney/brain cell? These types of experiments can and should be done in a human-relevant system rather than an animal (e.g. ADME studies).



11 - Haven’t animal experiments resulted in medical advances?


Animal experiments have been a part of medical research for centuries, and many millions are conducted every year. It would be absurd if some of those experiments had not led to some progress, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries when so little was known about how human and animal bodies function. However, due to species differences and other limitations of animal experiments for predicting what happens in humans, very many experiments on rats, mice, rabbits, primates and other animals have produced misleading information.


Where the reliability of animal experiments for medical progress has been independently analysed, many were shown either to have been conducted badly or to have wrongly predicted human outcomes.


For some diseases where little progress has been made in spite of decades of animal experiments, the conclusion must be that the animal models are failing to elucidate the human condition, and may well have obscured our understanding of it. There are numerous examples of animal research delaying medical progress because results from animal studies have sent research in the wrong direction. For example, the recently revealed deficiencies of the mouse and rabbit ‘models’ of multiple sclerosis (MS) provide a reason why research into this disease has remained largely unproductive over many decades.


Animal experiments are fraught with difficulties arising from species variations and the artificiality of animal ‘models’ of disease. (There is little objective evidence so far of their reliability or their relevance to human outcomes). Non-animal techniques have become the cutting edge of medical research. Animal experiments are being replaced by a range of non-animal methods that as well as being more humane, frequently prove cheaper, quicker and more effective – as well as saving lives.



12 - What research approaches does the DHT support?


The aim of the DHT is not simply to fund non-animal medical research, but to promote the replacement of animal procedures with non-animal methods. So, if a non-animal approach has no potential to replace animal procedures, for example because animal experiments are not conducted in that field of work or because the project will not ultimately lead to the replacement of animals, it is not eligible for funding by the DHT.


The DHT will consider funding research involving human cell lines, ex vivo or primary human tissues and cells, human sub-cellular components in vitro, ethical human volunteer studies, epidemiology, micro-organisms, plant tissues, physico-chemical techniques and computer technology or any other method or technology that has the potential to replace animal use.


We will fund most types of research as long as the research does not use living animals, ex vivo or primary animal tissues or cells, or animal cell lines. For further advice and guidance please call the DHT and speak with our Grants Officer.



13 - What peer review process does the DHT use for grant applications?


Grant applications are submitted on our standard forms. Each application undergoes independent peer review by three external, often international experts. Applications are treated as confidential throughout the process.



14 - What counts as “animal” and “non-animal” in replacing animal experiments?


A fundamental aim of replacing animal experiments is to prevent pain, distress and suffering. Therefore procedures on living sentient animals should be replaced with models that are non-sentient (the exception being ethically approved research with fully informed and consenting human volunteers).


No-one knows for certain where the dividing line falls between sentiency and non-sentiency within the animal kingdom. In practice, organisations simply follow the definition of “protected animal” in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 Amendment 2012 (ASPA).


In the DHT’s view it is likely that a number of animal species not listed in the ASPA may have the capacity to feel pain or distress. Therefore in our work we take a precautionary approach and avoid research using living animals with any potential for sentiency, excepting ethically approved research involving human volunteers.



15 - How can whole-organism level research be done without using animals?


Firstly, in medical research and testing the ‘whole organism’ of interest is the human animal. Increasingly, safe and ethical studies of healthy and patient volunteers can be conducted using techniques such as neuroimaging, ultrasound, stable isotope methods, microdosing, microdialysis, and genetic and other analyses of tissue samples.


Secondly, the system may be ‘de-constructed’ into its component parts, studied at the molecular, cellular or tissue levels, and then ‘re-constructed’. An example is the prediction of absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) characteristics of a novel drug.



16 - How does the DHT’s research differ from the research of larger or ‘mainstream’ medical charities?


Very few of the larger or ‘mainstream’ medical research charities have a serious, pro-active agenda to prioritise the replacement of animal procedures. No doubt they fund much research which happens not to use animals, but they seldom support research which is specifically aimed at innovating or developing techniques to replace animal experiments. A non-animal research technique does not become a replacement method until it is recognised and used instead of living animals.


In contrast, the DHT’s work is focused on achieving the replacement of animal experiments and advancing medical progress. Our funding policies, our grant application process, our peer review and all our other strategies reflect that focus. Therefore our grant holders are, from the start, looking for replacement methods and not just happening to use non-animal techniques.


In addition to funding research, we also scan for and identify new methodologies with replacement potential, and we work actively to advance the profile of the issue among a range of stakeholders.



17 - What legislation covers animal experiments in the UK and Europe?


The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 covers experimentation in Britain which has just been amended to include the updated European Directive 2010/63 EU.



18 - Does Britain have the strictest laws on animal experiments in the world?


Britain, in line with the rest of the EU has adopted the codes of practice and legislation as set down by the new EU Directive 2010/63 EU. The DHT is pleased that where the original ASPA laws were stricter than in the Directive, we have chosen to keep them the same.


Having the ‘strictest’ laws does not mean that unnecessary animal experimentation does not go on in the UK, therefore the focus should be on replacing the animals with non-animal alternatives.



19 - Are animal experiments required by law?


There is no legislation/law requiring animal experiments for basic medical research.


However, in the development and safety testing of products such as medicines and chemicals, in Europe, the USA, Japan and elsewhere it is currently required that companies should conduct a range of animal tests.


As new, non-animal methods are developed, testing requirements should be updated and animal tests replaced.



20 - As there are legislative requirements for animal tests in drug development, how can the DHT replace animal experiments in medical research?


Drug development is only one aspect of medical research. Most of the research funded by the DHT is not in drug development and testing, but is fundamental medical research focused on understanding human illnesses: their causes, progression, and the underlying features that might allow them to be prevented, diagnosed earlier or treated more effectively.



21 - Does legislation require the replacement of animal experiments?


European Directive 2010/63/EU makes it clear that the Commission and the Member States have a duty to encourage the development of alternative techniques, using fewer or no animals.


It also states that scientifically satisfactory methods using fewer animals or none must be used in place of animal experiments.



22 - Does the UK government fund research into the Three Rs?


Yes, through the NC3Rs which receives funding from DEFRA and the Home Office as well as the Research Councils and industry.



23 - How many animals are used in experiments?


In the UK in 2014, almost 4 million research procedures were conducted on animals. 


The worldwide numbers are hard to estimate as there is a wide variability in the reporting of animal experiments and many countries do not publish these numbers. A report in 2008 estimated that in 2005 approximately 115.3 million animals could have been used for animal experimentation.



24 - Are statistics on animal experiments accurate?


As with any statistics, those for animal experiments are not as clear as they seem. Some though not all countries’ statistics, for example, only include experiments and animals in the year the procedures start. Experiments lasting more than 12 months do not appear in subsequent years’ statistics, even though they continue.


Animals that were bred for their organs or tissues only are not counted in the statistics.


25 - How many of the DHT research projects actually are implemented and pass into general usage, replacing existing animal experiments?


Every project we fund must demonstrate real potential to replace the animals currently used in research.  The findings from DHT projects are published and communicated at international conferences in order to maximize the promotion, and ultimately implementation of the work.  Our projects – funded entirely by donations – are diverse.  Some look at how non-animal methodologies (for example MEG and MRI) can be used to investigate the development of diseases on live humans, and as such the results gained can be can be implemented fairly rapidly. Other projects may look at just one of the aspects of the biochemical basis of highly complex diseases, and as such it can be many years before this research is fitted into what is in effect a ‘jig saw’ of knowledge that is required before we can really understand how diseases develop and are caused.  Irrespective of this, in DHT-funded projects there is still an immediate and direct replacement of the animals that would have otherwise been used.

DHT-funded projects make a difference to not only to the numbers of animals used, but they also showcase that research can be conducted without animals.  Our researchers are helping to change the mind-set of the science community and influencing more and more researchers to look at replacing the animals techniques traditionally used.  


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