Rats, mice used in medical research cost colleges €1.7m
UNIVERSITIES have defended spending more than €1.7m on tens of thousands of live rats and mice for medical experiments over the past two years.
Irish universities have paid out a total of €1.74m since 2011 to buy at least 100,000 rats and mice for important research on a range of diseases, according to records obtained by the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act.
Research with animals is undertaken only when the researchers involved clearly demonstrate that all non-living organisms have been exhausted.
Irish universities have been at the forefront of global medical research and involved in a number of important breakthroughs. But the continued use of live animals for research continues to anger animal rights groups here and abroad.
Trinity College Dublin (TCD) spent €703,324 for 39,439 live mice, 14,864 live rats and 35 pigs over the past three academic years. The college said the volume of animals used reflected a period of intense research activity involving a number of large-scale projects.
The diseases researched include cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, schizophrenia, and inflammatory bowel disease.
TCD said its use of animals for medical research was in keeping with the practice of leading universities worldwide.
"Animal studies are conducted only when they will contribute to the advancement of knowledge that is likely to lead to the improvement of the health and welfare of animals and human beings," it said.
"All studies are conducted on the basis of well-defined scientific objectives, giving due consideration to the welfare of the animals, minimising the number of animals used and where possible using animal tissue rather than live animals."
TCD said its scientists had to demonstrate there were no alternatives before an ethical review process would allow procedures on live animals.
University College Cork, which spent more than €500,000 over the two years, mainly on mice and rats, but also pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs, said: "The use of animals in state-funded scientific research has produced beneficial results to human health that could not otherwise have been achieved."
It said its research had led to the development of non-invasive methods of alleviating chronic disease symptoms and reduced morbidity. It said it also widely used alternatives to live animals for work on cells, tissue and biopsy samples.
Between 2011-2012 University College Dublin spent €103,812 on 3,620 rats and €100,872 on 4,403 mice, and had smaller expenses for other animals.
Dublin City University, which disclosed that it spent over €44,000 on mice, rats, chickens and rabbits for research into cancer, diabetes and other diseases, refused to release details of where the animals are sourced because of security concerns.
Universities are entitled to refuse to grant records where it decides that to do so could "prejudice or impair the security of a building or facilitate the commission of an offence".
The figures showed that over the two years NUI Maynooth paid €65,356 for 2,352 live mice and rats to research human diseases and improved therapies, while NUI Galway spent more than €200,000 on rats, mice, rabbits and frogs.