UBC releases their 2015 animal research statistics

UBC has released their annual animal research statistics for the year of 2015.

Based on a survey by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC), the report has three sections — animal type, category of invasiveness and purpose of use.

Animal type

In 2015, 185,692 animals were involved in 517 research and teaching protocols. Of this number, 83 per cent were rodents or fish and only 2.5 per cent of the animals were non-rodent mammals. Compared with the previous year’s data, there was a two per cent increase in animals and a 40 per cent decrease in the number of protocols. A greater number of animals per protocol reflects an improved quality in animal research at UBC.

“Let’s say six mice are used in a study, but the standard of deviation was too high. The study will need to be repeated with eight mice, which totals 14,” said Ian Welch, director of UBC Veterinary Services & Research Support. “We could have reduced the number of animals used in the experiment by using eight the first time.”

Large mammal numbers increased drastically from 1,138 to 2,956 in 2015. Most of which, 92.5 per cent, were part of non-invasive observational studies. For example, studies on animal welfare at UBC’s Dairy Education and Research Centre at Agassiz, BC.

Category of invasiveness

UBC uses a set of alphabetical categories set out by the CCAC that measure invasiveness, or the level of discomfort that an animal will be placed under during an experiment. More than 56 per cent of the animals were used in Category B or C experiments, indicating little to minor stress or discomfort.  

For the first time, no animals were reported in Category E experiments, indicating severe pain. For the third consecutive year, there has been an increase in animal use in Category D experiments, indicating moderate to severe distress. This year’s increase in Category D research is proportional with the increase in overall animal numbers.

Category A research is not required in CCAC annual reports — these experiments involve tissue cultures, eggs and single-cell organisms.

Purpose of use

Regulatory testing of drugs and medical products encompasses only three-quarters of a per cent of animals used in UBC research. A third of all animals are used in medical and veterinary research to study treatment for disease. Most animals, 65 per cent, are purposed under the non-descript “basic research” category.

Welch provided an example of an experiment that would be categorized as basic research.

“Imagine you are a physician at Vancouver Costal and you treat prostate cancer. People die with prostate cancer, people suffer with prostate cancer. To study the disease, you need some kind of model. Right now, injecting human prostate cancer into the underbellies of mice is the mode. If an alternative solution was available, the researchers would take it in a heartbeat.”  

Scientists who perform animal research are often frowned upon by those outside of the scientific community.

“It is always very frustrating to me to see scientists portrayed as vicious torturers when I know so many of them as caring and respectful people who truly feel for their animals,” said Dr. Doris Doudet, a professor in neurology.

UBC has seven veterinarians and teams of technicians dedicated to the care of research animals. One of the two universities that publishes its CCAC animal research data, UBC also releases the CCAC assessment of the university’s animal care program and its 25 facilities.