Ethical Review

Mouse on hand

In the context of animal use, research at the Institute falls into four categories

  1. Research that does not require living tissue, such as computer modelling or molecular analysis such as the study of DNA.
  2. Research that uses the culture of tissues or cells originally sourced from live animals, including human donors.
  3. Research using non-vertebrate species such as yeast, nematode worms and fruit flies when it is necessary to study or utilise biological responses than cannot be reproduced in tissue culture.
  4. Where there are no other alternatives, research involving live vertbrate animals (exclusively rodents) which are classifed as protected species under the Animals (Scientific procedures) Act in UK law.

Before any decision to use animals is made (as in category 4 above), independent ethical assessments are conducted by the Institute’s Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) to assess if the research and procedures proposed by a researcher are justified. This ethical review is applied to all research involving animals which is undertaken on the Babraham Research Campus, whether by the Institute or by a commercial company. After local ethical review, legal authority to proceed is then sought from the Animals in Science Regulation Unit (ASRU) of the UK Home Office which undertakes its own assessment and decides whether to approve the research.

Review by the AWERB committee compares the potential benefits of the proposed experiments with the likely costs in terms of any possible animal suffering. The following points are considered:

Needs and benefits

  • Is the research relevant to human or animal health and/or to understanding basic biology?
  • Could it improve the understanding of normal ageing or diseases of ageing?
  • The prevalence and severity of any related clinical problem; for example, the health impact and the number of patients suffering from a disease.
  • The potential to open up new areas of knowledge.
  • Potential improvements to animal or human welfare resulting from the science.

Costs and harms (direct)

  • The number of animals involved in the experiments.
  • Actual or potential pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to experimental animals and their expected severity.
  • The cumulative experience throughout the lifetime of an experimental animal.

Associated harms (unrelated to the research purpose):

  • Effects on the animals’ natural behaviour and environment, such as transporting animals or altering social groups.

Research objectives:

  • Is the proposal realistic and likely to succeed?
  • The quality and originality of the experiments: is the work novel or does it duplicate earlier work?
  • Whether any relevant human disease is being modelled as effectively as possible.


  • The existence of any alternatives to animals for this particular research.
  • Is the selected species appropriate for the purpose and is the methodology convincing?
  • Specialist animal welfare or care required.
  • The quality of any welfare measurements during procedures.

Quality and competence:

  • Training and competence of staff.
  • Quality of facilities and equipment.
  • Track record of any previous animal research undertaken by the scientist.
  • Whether the quality of the research is recognised by the award of peer-reviewed research funding.