Methods which avoid or replace the use of animals

Before any animal research is approved, we ask whether animals are needed at all to properly answer the given scientific question.

The increasing sophistication of computer modelling, in vitro biochemistry, and research using cell and tissue culture methods means that a significant amount of data can be obtained without the use of live animals.

The use of regulated species can often then be limited to the later stages of a programme of work where it is important to confirm that findings from other systems hold true in a model closer to a live human being.



  • Immunology researchers at the Institute use tissue culture techniques to model key changes and cell differentiation events that occur in our lymph nodes during an immune response. This knowledge is important in understanding how to maximise vaccination response in older people. Recent work used T cells obtained from volunteer blood samples to show that ageing affects the development of immune cells that are critical for the generation of good quality antibodies.  By using tissue culture models, the researchers were able to determine the molecular mechanism of this age-associated change.
  • Research projects across our Epigenetics and Immunology research programmes are using donated human cells and tissues to: explore the factors important for human embryo implantation; learn more about human placental development; and analyse the immune response to covid vaccination.
  • The Institute’s researchers and bioinformatics specialists make extensive use of publicly available data for reanalysis in order to use this wealth of existing data to answer research questions without the need for repeating experiments, including those that involve animal research. In 2021, Institute researchers utilised high-throughput sequencing datasets from 146 separate studies, involving over 46TB of data. This re-analysis makes the most use of data generated by the global scientific community and saves Institute researchers from having to repeat experiments. Likewise, the Institute is committed to Open Science practices to ensure the maximum use and impact of our research.
  • Research at the Institute is using yeast, fruit flies, worms and cell culture to understand fundamental mechanisms of genetic and epigenetic regulation. Although processes such as ageing and dietary control are widely considered to be features of higher animals, these are largely governed by ancient biochemical pathways that existed in the earliest eukaryotes. We can therefore learn underlying principles of these critical processes by studying individual cells and simple organisms. Recent work using nematode words (C. elegans) has identified new genes that influence lifespan in C. elegans, some of which have equivalent genes in humans.
  • In our Signalling research programme, Drosophila (fruit flies) are being used to explore how cellular signalling pathways operate and how changes in signalling pathways contribute to the loss of tissue health that occur with age. Drosophila provide a great model system for this type of work, due to the short life cycle of the fly (2-3 months), the wealth of genetic information available about this system, and the relative ease of genetic modification compared to mice. Furthermore, most of the signalling pathways that maintain tissue health, and which influence the ageing process, in humans are conserved in flies.