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19 - 06 - 2017

A virtual tour at the heart of animal experimentation


Four British animal research laboratories have opened their doors to the general public as part of a virtual visit. The opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes of an unknown scientific world.

 What happens in a laboratory that does experiments on animals? What are the different species used? Where are they kept and how are they treated?

To answer all these questions, the non-profit organization Understanding animal research created a website, The idea: for you to visit virtually four major British laboratories that do animal research.

The four structures, namely the MRC Harwell Institute, the Pirbright Institute, the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford, each offer a 360 ° view of the various rooms related to animal experiments (rooms where animals are kept, surgery room, MRI room). Through the interactive visit, the user also has access to videos and explanations to better understand the role of each room and the content of the research carried out in these laboratory animals.

As this site is only in English, we offer a quick overview of the content for each of the four laboratories.



The MRC Harwell Institute, the study of mouse genetics


Mice sharing 98% of their genes with humans. Within the MRC Harwell Institute, researchers are studying genetics using genetically engineered mice. They want to understand the role of each gene and their relationship to disease occurrence. The Institute has approximately 30,000 mice, distributed in six rooms and in different cages, with a maximum of 5 mice per cage. Every day, technicians check that the mice are well and that they have enough food. The cages are washed weekly.

The virtual visit also includes the room where the mice embryos are genetically modified, the room where the cages are cleaned, the room where the staff changes and gets equipped, and the room where the gametes (breeding cells) of the mice are Cryogenized at -190 ° C. 



Work on viral diseases at the Pirbright Institute


The PirBright Institute specializes in the study of viral diseases that affect farm animals and that can be transmitted to humans. Thanks to this research, the institute has created several vaccines, tested on the spot. The institute works on cattle, pigs, rabbits but also insects because they are often vectors of viruses.

In the insect room, one researcher explains that he is studying bluetongue, transmitted by midges of the genus Culicoides, and which affects ruminants wild and farmed. The goal is to better understand the transmission of this virus to better control this disease and prevent its occurrence. On cattle, the Pirbright Institute is working on FMD, a disease for which current vaccines are not always effective. Rabbits are used to produce tests for the diagnosis of foot-and-mouth disease: after injection of the created vaccine, their blood produces antibodies that are recovered and used for these tests. As for the pigs, they are vaccinated against certain diseases, for example African swine fever, and then put in contact with these diseases in order to measure the effectiveness of the vaccine. All these animals live in controlled and managed environments to allow them to have social interactions and foraging behaviours.

The virtual visit of the laboratory also includes the room where the staff changes, the autopsy room and the surgery room.


Surgery and MRIs on pigs at the University of Bristol



The University of Bristol is working on the development of new surgical techniques and materials. To do this, the laboratory team uses pigs from breeding farms, which they breed and operate on, to test these innovations. Before being applied to humans, new surgeries have to be tested on animals, and in particular on animals close to humans such as pigs or sheep. This research has already led to improvements in surgery on children with cardiac malformations.

In the virtual visit of the University of Bristol, visitors can discover the pre and post-surgery rooms, the MRI room, the anesthesia room, the surgery room, the intensive care room where the animals recover for 48 hours after surgery, the laboratory where the tissues and organs from animals are studied, and the room where these tissues are preserved (Bio Bank).


Neuroscience studies at the University of Oxford


The Oxford University laboratory presented in this virtual tour, conducts neuroscience studies on primates, and more specifically on rhesus macaques. The aim is to better understand how the brains of these monkeys function. To do this, the team surgically places an implant on the heads of certain macaques, to immobilize them during an MRI or to measure their brain activity during behavioural exercises.

The virtual tour of the University of Oxford also includes a 360 ° view of the surgery room, the MRI room, the Behavioural Testing Room, the room where the macaques perform these tests (See image), and the room where their food is prepared. All are accompanied by explanatory videos.





Commmunicating to explain and reassure  

The Labanimaltour initiative aims to show the general public what animal research is, far from fantasies, clichés and a priori. It shows concretely where the animals are raised and what types of research they participate in. Indeed, to be better understood by the general public, science must explain what is works on and how it does it.

In France, the site has put on line a YouTube channel in order to show the reality of animal research, and for researchers working on animal models to clarify the ins and outs of their research.




Hélène Bour