BLOG: Animal research, the “3Rs” and Imperial College London – Daisy Hall, Senior Researcher, Animal Justice Project

The Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement of animals in laboratories is a concept that has been in existence since the 1950s. And whilst compassionate and intelligent members of our society would without-doubt agree that the main focus of this concept should be the total replacement of animals in research, the reality is that many U.K laboratories are actually increasing the amount of animals they are using in research year-to-year. And this year, Imperial College London have congratulated themselves on what they perceive to be their ‘achievements’ in relation to the 3 Rs principle.

One ‘winning’ researcher at Imperial stated that “by thinking about how to minimize the use of animals, we were prompted to think more deeply about what is going on in our experiments and how we can measure that in a different way”. Surely it should be critical that research scientists are continually thinking deeply about what occurs throughout their experiments? Not just to be acknowledged in an event such as this?

Another researcher’s supposed refinement of methods, involved “leading an initiative to house post-operative guinea pigs in groups, rather than in single cages. This refinement work has led to reduced stress levels among the animals”. In their natural habitats, guinea pigs live in groups and are social creatures. The fact that the laboratory animals have previously been housed individually means the stress this will have caused will undoubtedly have skewed the already dubious results achieved via animal-based experiments.

Animal Justice Project is a 1R organisation – we advocate the abolition of animal breeding, and the abolition of the use of animals in all forms of research and within educational institutions. We do not support the concept of 3Rs since we are opposed to animal experiments on moral and also scientific grounds. This is true also for our Scientific Advisors organisation; Antidote Europe.

In 2012 the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (now Cruelty Free International) went undercover at an Imperial College London laboratory. Their investigation documented “a catalogue of misery and poor practice shedding new light on the reality of animal experiments in the UK”. This appalling treatment involved animals suffering due to “staff incompetence, neglect, a failure of staff to provide adequate anaesthesia and pain relief, and breaches and lack of knowledge of UK Home Office project licences which set out what can be done to animals used in experiments”. Some key concerns noted were:

  • Researchers underestimated animal suffering
  • Staff ineptitude in surgical and other procedures, resulting in animal deaths and suffering
  • Poor monitoring of animals – leading to further suffering
  • Live rats decapitated by guillotine
  • Loud pop music played throughout the laboratory – music played during surgery, whilst animals were recovering from surgery, and whilst they were being killed

A Daily Mail article, reporting on the exposé, described an independent review which took place in response to the investigation. They state the review “identified a lack of adequate operational, leadership, management, training, supervisory and ethical review systems at Imperial, where more than 1,000 people are involved in animal research on four separate sites”. It also identified “a number of serious concerns on the conduct, management and oversight of animal research at Imperial College”.

In response to the CFI investigation, government advisors also found “systematic patterns of infringements” at Imperial. In articles by The Guardian and Evening Standard it was reported that the organisation’s “investigation accelerated action despite ‘a pattern of concerns’ having been identified by the Home Office Inspectorate as early as 2012”. Therefore, it is not a surprise based on this history of abuse, that it is the researchers from Imperial College themselves who are awarding their current ‘advancements’, rather than any external or independent body.

Imperial claim their researchers look for “methods that replace animal research or reduce the number of animals involved”, but the numbers speak for themselves – in 2016, 101,369 animals were used in research at Imperial, an increase from the previous year. It is truly staggering just how many animals are tortured and killed each year at Imperial College London. Rather than continuing to carry out cruel and futile animal experiments, it is time they led the way to develop non-animal research methods that will not only yield more relevant and reliable results, but will also accelerate the improvement of scientific research and technologies.


First mention of the 3 Rs – Russell, W.M.S. and Burch, R.L., (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, Methuen, London. ISBN 0900767782

History of 3 Rs

CFI Review