Use of animals in research policy
We fund research that uses animals if it is legal, ethical and scientifically justified. All researchers and organisations we fund must comply with the guidelines outlined on this page.
What we expect from the researchers and organisations we fund
Research that takes place in the UK must:
- comply with Home Office legislation and all relevant regulatory requirements
- have approval from the local ethics committee
- meet the 3Rs standards.
Research that takes place outside the UK must:
- at a minimum, follow the principles of Home Office legislation
- comply with all local legislation and ethical review procedures
- meet the 3Rs standards.
Researchers must still get the relevant regulatory approvals if they plan to collaborate with other laboratories or use a Contract Research Organisation (for example, contract out animal research). This is regardless of the species they use or where in the world they conduct the research.
Researchers don't need to have these approvals before they submit their grant application, but they must have them in place before they start their project.
If the research uses macaques, grantholders must get them from the MRC Centre for Macaques. This applies to any research carried out in the UK.
If a Wellcome grant is sub-awarded to another organisation that will carry out animal research as part of the project, that organisation must put processes in place to make sure that they comply with this policy.
This must include:
- making sure that all animal work is appropriately assessed by people with the relevant experience
- seeking NC3R review if the work involves non-human primates, cats, dogs or equidae.
Animals covered by this policy
We use the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which defines protected animals used in research as:
- non-human vertebrates
- live cephalopods
- independently feeding larval forms
- foetal forms of mammals in the last third of their gestation or incubation period.
Read more information in the 'Protected animals' section of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.
The 3Rs standards
The 3Rs is a framework established for performing more humane animal research.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is the UK’s national organisation for the 3Rs. The centre defines the 3Rs as follows:
- Replacement – accelerating the development and use of models and tools, based on the latest science and technologies, to address important scientific questions without the use of animals.
- Reduction – appropriately designed and analysed animal experiments that are robust and reproducible, and truly add to the knowledge base.
- Refinement – advancing research into animal welfare by exploiting the latest in vivo technologies and by improving understanding of the impact of welfare on scientific outcomes.
Applicants must meet the 3Rs standards if they plan to:
- carry out any new experiments using animals or animal tissue
- analyse pre-existing data collected on research using animals – applicants should explain how the data was collected in accordance with the 3Rs.
Applicants must include details about how they have considered replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in their research. This should be done from the earliest stages of research design.
- explain why there is no alternative to using animals in the research
- justify the number of animals they will use
- state that the severity level for all procedures is the lowest possible.
They should develop their grant using the NC3R’s guidelines on the use of animals in research.
Researchers can also use the Experimental Design Assistant. This is a free online tool from NC3Rs to help with the design of their experiments. The outputs of this tool can be added as an appendix to the grant application.
NC3Rs peer review
We send grant applications to the NC3Rs for independent review if the research involves:
- cats, dogs, equidae or non-human primates
- large numbers of any type of animal.
This is in addition to the expert peer review we ask for as part of the grant application process.
The relevant Wellcome advisory committee will consider the NC3Rs’ review when they assess the grant application.
If we award a grant, funding may be conditional on the applicant addressing any concerns raised by NC3Rs.
Read about the NC3Rs peer review process.
When researchers must contact us
Grantholders must tell us if their use of animals changes during their grant. For example, if the number of animals they use is significantly more than the amount we funded.
This is a requirement of our grant conditions.
We may ask for more information if there is a significant overspend on animal costs.
Grantholders must contact Wellcome immediately if:
- there are any doubts about their research meeting the appropriate regulatory requirements
- their research uses non-human primates and issues arise that affect the experiments (for example, problems recruiting, training or retaining staff whose roles are critical to animal welfare).
- Read our grant conditions.
- Read about our position on animal research.
- Application form example animal questions [DOC 139KB].
- Experimental Design Assistant a free online tool to help with experiment design.
- NC3Rs: ARRIVE guidelines to help improve the reporting of research using animals.
- NC3Rs: Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research guidance for researchers and associated veterinary and animal care staff who use live animals or animal products in bioscience research.
- EC report: testing on non-human primates falling but still needed.
- NC3Rs: Choosing contractors for animal research advice on appropriate animal welfare standards for researchers applying for grant funds from major UK bioscience funding bodies.
- NCBI: PREPARE guidelines for planning animal research and testing.
- Science Media Centre provides support for researchers who want to talk openly with the media and the public about their research involving animals.
This policy was last updated in May 2020.