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Animal research at Pirbright

Chick in handsOur scientists are committed to the principals of the 3Rs: reduction (in numbers), refinement (of procedures) and replacement (with laboratory procedures) of experimental animals. The 3Rs principle is central to the Institute’s values and we take seriously our responsibility to ensure that experiments are designed with the aim of avoiding the use of animals wherever possible whilst ensuring that we produce results that are of benefit to animal health and welfare in the longer term.

We endorse the ARRIVE guidelines (Animal Research: Reporting In Vivo Experiments) produced by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Experiments (NC3Rs), and are signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research. The Institute is also a member of Understanding Animal Research, which works to inform the public about the necessity for the proper and proportionate use of animals in research for human and animal health.

The impact of the work carried out by the Institute in improving the welfare of livestock both in the UK and overseas is considerable. This important research would not be possible without the proportionate use of animals which are integral in the development of new viral disease control methods such as   veterinary vaccines and diagnostics. These safeguard the wellbeing of countless livestock and the livelihoods of their owners.


The work our scientists undertake is governed and regulated by:

The Animal Scientific Procedures Act 1986 (ASPA)

ASPA regulates procedures that are carried out on ‘protected animals’ for scientific purposes that may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. ‘Protected animals’ are defined as all living vertebrates, other than a human, including certain immature forms and any living cephalopod.

Furthermore, the Act regulates the breeding and supply of certain species of ‘protected animals’ for use in regulated procedures or for the scientific use of their organs or tissues. The Act also regulates the methods used to humanely cull these animals.

Home Office Licencing

The conduct of using ‘protected animals’ for scientific research is authorised by Licences. Licences are issued by the Home Office covering the place (Establishment Licence), the project (Project Licence) and the person (Personal Licence):

  • The Pirbright Institute holds an Establishment Licence, along with a number of Project Licences and Personal Licences.
  • The site has been assigned a Home Office Inspector to monitor standards, practices and compliance with ASPA and the conditions of all Home Office Licences. The Inspector visits our facilities periodically and often comes unannounced.

Ensuring animal care and welfare at Pirbright

In accordance with ASPA, The Pirbright Institute has the following roles and responsibilities, all of which work together to ensure the highest standards of animal care and welfare:

Establishment Licence Holder (ELH)

The ELH is accountable for the performance and conduct of the named persons.The role ensures that named persons have the necessary authority to carry out their roles effectively.

Named Compliance Officer (NCO)

The NCO ensures that the requirements of ASPA and conditions of the Licence are complied with.

Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS)

The NVS is responsible for, monitors and provides advice on the health, welfare and treatment of animals and helps the Establishment Licence holder to fulfil his/her responsibilities.

The NVS is a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) with expertise in the species being used at The Pirbright Institute.

The NVS is actively involved, on a day to day basis, in safeguarding the welfare of animals at The Pirbright Institute.

Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer (NACWO)

NACWO’s are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day husbandry, care and welfare of the protected animals held at The Pirbright Institute.

They are a source of independent advice on welfare and care to minimise suffering and optimise the welfare of all animals that are bred, kept for use or used at The Pirbright Institute.

A high percentage of Animal Technicians are also trained to NACWO level.

Named Information Officer (NIO)

The NIO is responsible for ensuring that those dealing with animals in The Pirbright Institute have access to information they need about the species held here and procedures being performed.

Named Training and Competency Officer (NTCO)

The NTCO ensures that all those dealing with animals are adequately educated, trained and supervised until they are competent and that they continue to undertake continued professional development to maintain their expertise.

Project evaluation

European Directive 2010/63 and the amended ASPA require extensive project evaluation, taking into consideration ethical implications associated with the use of animals in scientific research. This is pivotal to project authorisation, and requires the implementation of the principles of replacement, reduction and refinement (the 3Rs) in those projects.

Project Licences are reviewed by The Pirbright Institute’s Animal Welfare & Ethical Review Board (AWERB). The Board provides constructive feedback and any recommendations they feel appropriate for the programme of work. These comments and/or recommendations must be addressed to the satisfaction of the AWERB before the Project Licence application or amendment is approved.

The process enables the Establishment Holder to meet in full the Standard Conditions for holding the Establishment Licences at both sites and to provide assurance that all aspects of the 3R’s have been fully considered in new applications and throughout the life of projects.

The Animal Welfare & Ethical Review Board (AWERB)

All research using animals at The Pirbright Institute is considered at the Animal Welfare Ethical Review Board (AWERB). The AWERB has a remit to consider and review ethical issues regarding the operation of Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA).

However before any projects reach consideration by the AWERB, The Pirbright Institute has a prescribed process in place for all Project Licence holders – this is a rigorous process which should culminate in the submission of an application to the AWERB. The key steps are as follows:

  • The Director of Science nominates a potential Project Licence holder;
  • Nominee will be required to pass accredited Home Office modular training;
  • Nominee attends an AWERB meeting prior to commencement of the application process to ensure awareness of the AWERB’s objectives;
  • Sub-committee meeting is held to consider the draft application. This meeting consists of the applicant, Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS), Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWO’s), a Project Licence holder, Home Office Liaison Contact and Chair of AWERB;
  • Actions arising from the sub-committee are completed by the applicant;
  • Nominee presents application at AWERB;
  • Any actions are completed by the applicant with the approval of the AWERB prior to submission to the Home Office.

Once a project reaches the AWERB, the Committee has to be able to balance the possible pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm that will be incurred by an animal under a procedure with the objectives of the project. Each procedure is discussed to ensure where possible, further reduction, replacement or refinement can be included.

Formal statistical review is part of the ethical review process to ensure that all studies are designed appropriately and have sufficient statistical power to detect effects that are biologically meaningful.

The core tasks of the AWERB are to:

  • Advise staff dealing with animals at The Pirbright Institute on matters related to the welfare of animals including their acquisition, accommodation, care and use;
  • Advise on the application of reduction, refinement, replacement (3Rs) and all relevant technical and scientific developments;
  • Establish and review management and operational processes for monitoring, reporting and follow-up in relation to the welfare of animals housed or used in The Pirbright Institute;
  • Follow the development and outcome (retrospective review) of projects carried out, taking into account the effect on the animals used and to identify and advise on elements that could further contribute to the 3Rs;
  • Promote a ‘culture of care’ within The Pirbright Institute and in the wider community.

The AWERB is made up of representatives of the Chair, Project and Personal Licence holders, Named Animal Care and Welfare Officers (NACWO’s), the Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS), local management, lay members and independent members. The Pirbright Institute also opens up the meeting to its Animal Technicians to attend.

If you have any questions regarding our use of animals in research, please contact us.

Who cares for the animals?

ChicksThe Pirbright Institute’s Animal Technicians are experienced specialists in the care of animals. They are all trained in daily animal handling, husbandry, the recognition of signs of pain, distress and disease and the ethics on the use of animals in research.

All of  the Institute’s Animal Technicians undertake an accredited Personal Licence training course. Once qualified, they receive further practical training and supervision to enable them to undertake Licenced procedures at The Pirbright Institute.

Which species are used at The Pirbright Institute?

PigResearch programmes at The Pirbright Institute are of the highest quality and only use animals when there are no alternatives.

The Institute mostly works with farm species; the species that will principally benefit from our research e.g. cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and poultry. In common with many UK animal facilities, Pirbright also works with mice, rabbits and guinea pigs.

How are animals sourced?

CowFarm animal species (e.g. cattle, pigs, goats, sheep) are either sourced from The Institute’s own herds or from a list of approved suppliers.

All small animal species (e.g. mice, guinea pigs, rabbits) are purchased from approved suppliers.

Animals sourced for use at Pirbright are subject to health screening programs to ensure animal welfare and health is of the highest standard.

How are the animals housed and fed?

Pigs in strawPirbright has a number of high containment and conventional animal units which can house a range of species from small to large animals.

Our animal facilities meet (and where possible, exceed) the ‘Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Bred, Supplied or Used for Scientific Purposes.’ The purpose of this Code of Practice is to ensure that the design, construction and function of the installations and equipment of licenced establishments – along with staffing, care and practices – allow procedures to be carried out as effectively as possible.

All animals are kept in the best possible environment available to ensure and maintain their health and welfare. They are housed in rooms, pens, cages or isolators (dependent on species and study requirements) with bedding and nesting material. Enrichment is available to provide a stimulating environment in order for the animals to demonstrate their species typical behavior and to enhance and ensure their well-being.

We provide all species with a range of enrichment items. Large animals like cows and pigs are provided with mineral licks, brushes, toys, treats, bedding material and/or rubber matting. Small animals such as mice are provided with running wheels, nest boxes and nesting material.

How are the animals monitored?

Rabbits hidingAll animals are checked at a minimum twice daily to ensure that they are in good health and comprehensive veterinary support is available at all times to ensure any welfare concerns are dealt with as quickly as possible.

Animal health records are completed by our Animal Technicians upon receiving the animals. These completed forms document:

  • the identity of the animals (including ear tag numbers)
  • descriptions of any illnesses, injuries or behavioral problems
  • dates and details of all medical observations, examinations or procedures
  • dates and details of all treatments

Staff training

We strongly believe that education and training is the key to raising standards of animal welfare. To this end, The Pirbright Institute is committed to providing continued professional development opportunities to ensure that employees working with animals have the knowledge and skills required to fulfil their job roles effectively.

The Institute recognises that its overall success is dependent upon having employees in place across the organisation that are capable of fulfilling their job roles and making a positive contribution towards the achievement of both short and long term organisational goals.

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