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On 10th December 2013, the report of an independent investigation into animal research at Imperial College London was released. Professor Steve Brown chaired an independent committee to investigate and assess the approach to laboratory animal care and welfare across the Imperial College, following an undercover infiltration of one of the College’s animal facilities by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).

The committee set out to provide a report describing areas of animal research that represented best practice at Imperial as well as those areas that fell short of the best standards practised within the UK (and more widely). The report stated that:

“The committee found that husbandry was carried out to a high standard at the College, and the fabric and maintenance of facilities was also satisfactory. Moreover, animal experimentation is supported by a committed and engaged animal house staff, who are willing to do more in terms of developing new approaches to animal welfare and engaging further in providing support for in vivo experimental approaches.

“The committee found however that Imperial did not have in place adequate operational, leadership, management, training, supervisory and ethical review systems that would enable the College to set the highest UK or international standards in the 3Rs and to be a world leader in developing ideas and practice in animal welfare. The committee therefore makes a number of substantive recommendations across the four areas, the implementation of which will be critical for Imperial to reach the standards in the 3Rs and animal welfare commensurate with its world-leading stature in scientific research.”

Recommendations include a reform of Imperial’s internal processes for the ethical and scientific review of animal studies, and increased staffing levels in the animal facilities. The committee found that the provision for training, supervision and competency assessment was ad hoc, and that there was inadequate sharing of information and best practice across staff. As a result, the report recommended a significant increase in resource for training and competency assessment.

The committee believes their recommendations can be applied beyond Imperial to other universities and science institutions carrying out experimental studies on animals.

Imperial has accepted all the recommendations of the committee and has made a commitment to communicate its progress in implementing the report’s recommendations.

The role of Professor Brown’s committee was not to investigate the specific allegations made by BUAV. The Home Office is undertaking an inquiry into the allegations which will be published in early 2014.

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