Animal Research at SWC

At the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre, we are working to explain how the brain gives rise to complex behaviour. The answer to this fundamental scientific question of our era will have a profound impact on our understanding of cognitive function and dysfunction, and indeed of ourselves.

While technological advancements over the past decades have allowed us to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research, studies involving animal models continue to be important to help us understand the way the brain is organised and how it functions. With this foundational knowledge, we can partner with clinical scientists to develop the next generation of biologically-based treatments for mental and neurological disorders.

What species do we study at SWC?

Our researchers study laboratory mice and rats to understand how the brain forms knowledge about the world, keeps track of information to make decisions, and learns and remembers. 

By studying the behaviour of rodents, we can map the areas of the brain associated with different computations and use this to understand how information flows from neurons to neural circuits and larger networks in the brain that give rise to adaptable, flexible behaviour. 

Animal welfare

The SWC is committed to minimising the use of animals in research whilst continuing to facilitate advances in science, research and medical knowledge. We ensure that animal welfare is always given the highest priority and Owlvets provide round-the-clock veterinary advice. 

The Sainsbury Wellcome Centre has received full accreditation from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International, a private, nonprofit organisation that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science. This prestigious international accreditation confirms SWC’s dedication to outstanding standards of animal care and welfare. Read more about our AAALAC International accreditation.

All our animal research is undertaken under stringent requirements of the law. Anyone undertaking research at SWC follows the outlined regulations:

  1. Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 [ASPA] (EU Directive 2010/63/EU)
  2. Animal Welfare Act 2006

We have in place the required three levels of legal authority from the Home Office's Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) to conduct our animal research: an Establishment Licence defining the management controls and dedicated facilities at SWC for animal work; Project Licences authorising the various programmes of work and justifying the need for animals; and Personal Licences for those trained and competent persons who carry out defined techniques on the animals. 

We are regularly audited by ASRU to ensure the laws are being enforced.

Key principles

The key principles governing all our animal research are:

  1. We pursue a policy of reduction, replacement, and refinement (3Rs) of animal use.
  2. All applications for project licences that involve the use of animals for research are subject to an internal ethical review process by the Animal Welfare & Ethical Review Body (AWERB) to ensure the research is fully justified and the 3Rs have been rigorously applied. As required by law, the SWC has its own AWERB. 
  3. Veterinary and animal care staff play a key role in the ethical review process and contribute to design and conduct of research using animals. 
  4. All those caring for or carrying out scientific research on animals are trained and tested to ensure they are competent.
  5. Any individual who has any concerns with respect to the health and welfare of animals are encouraged to raise this promptly.

Concordat on Openness on Animal Research

We are located within UCL and funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and Wellcome. UCL and Wellcome are both signatories to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research, which is a set of commitments to be more open about the use of animals in research.

All of SWC’s experiments are conducted for the purposes of scientific research. Outcomes of this research is published accordingly in academic journals and reported to the funding bodies that financially support the research.

At SWC, we support open dialogue on the use of animals in research and we are committed to transparent communication of our research. Any questions about our use of animals in research can be emailed to us.

Animal Research Statistics at SWC infographic showing data from 2019 to 2023