Research involving animals has contributed to many of the medical advances in the detection and treatment of cancer that we now take for granted.

Science involving animals has been vital for the discovery of drugs like tamoxifen for breast cancer, which has saved thousands of women’s lives. And scientists first spotted the potential of Glivec in research involving mice – a drug that cures people with chronic myeloid leukaemia. The development of antibody therapies has also relied on animal studies, leading to important treatments such as Perception and rituximab.

Animal research has been crucial for improving radiotherapy and surgery. For example keyhole surgery was first tested in animals. And developing ways to prevent cancer, such as the cervical cancer vaccine, rely on animal research. 

Most of our research at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute does not involve animals. However, some animal research remains essential if we are to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Where animal research is undertaken at the Institute, it involves primarily mice, and to a much smaller extent rats and fruit flies.

Research involving animals enables us to understand basic physiological processes and the mechanisms underlying cancer. Alternatives to the use of animals, such as studying cancer cells growing in the lab and using computers to predict cancer cell behaviour have greatly reduced the number of animals used and we are committed to developing alternatives to continue reducing animal use. However, at the moment, these alternatives cannot fully mimic the complex interactions that take place in the body. Research at the Institute involving animals is not undertaken lightly and, in line with the values of Cancer Research UK and UK law, research involving animals only takes place where there is no alternative.

The welfare of our animals, and promoting a culture of care towards them, is a top priority. As a research community we closely follow the guidance published by animal welfare bodies such as the RSPCA and LASA (Laboratory Animals in Science Association).

We are committed to the principles of the 3Rs:


 Methods which avoid or replace the use of animals.


 Methods which minimise the number of animals used and increase data per animal.


 Methods which minimise suffering and improve animal welfare.

Where animal studies are unavoidable, they are conducted in strict compliance with the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the EU Directive 2010/63 under the associated licensing process. As part of this process, the potential scientific and medical benefits of the research are weighed up against the possible effects on the animals involved by our Animal Welfare and Ethics Review Body and the Home Office before any research project involving animals can proceed. We have a dedicated team who guide and train our scientists, and oversee the care and welfare of the animals. We work closely with a veterinary surgeon to ensure that the highest levels of both staff competency and animal welfare are being maintained.

Both the University of Cambridge and Cancer Research UK are signatories of the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK which sets out how organisations report the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research in the UK.

Read more

Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the UK
Understanding Animal Research
Laboratory Animal Science Association
Cancer Research UK – Involving animals in research