Animals Research at UBC


1. Why are animals used in research?

In Canada, federal law requires animal models must be used to assess new therapies before any human clinical trials may be conducted.

Scientists first seek non-animal alternatives, such as cell cultures and computer simulations. However – particularly in disease research and the development of new medicines – these methods cannot yet mirror the complicated processes that occur in a living system.

For example, computer models are limited to analyzing data that is already known. Test tube, or in vitro, studies use tissues or cells obtained from animals or people. Studying living cells in containers cannot reproduce conditions in complex systems - such as circulatory or digestive systems – found in animals and humans.

Almost every major medical advance for both humans and animals has depended on the use of research animals. Examples include antibiotics, anesthetics, heart valve replacements and vaccines to prevent rabies in companion animals.

2. Aren't animals too different from people for the research to be valid?

There are obvious differences but there are also remarkable similarities. For example, much of what we know about the immune system has come from studies in poultry and in mice, which share 90 per cent of our genes. We have learned about the nervous system from studying invertebrates such as squid, snails and fruit flies. Major biological systems, such as digestive and cardiovascular systems, work in same way in animals as in humans.

3. Does UBC conduct animal testing? Is animal testing the same as animal research?

UBC conducts research, not testing and is formalizing a policy to prohibit testing. Testing typically involves routine validation of a product after it has gone to market, such as testing of cosmetics and other substances for consumer safety purposes. Such animal testing is not part of UBC’s research program.

4. How does UBC decide if and how animals are used?

In Canada, federal law requires animal models must be used to assess new therapies before any human clinical trials may be conducted.

Researchers wishing to use animals in a research study must follow a series of steps. First, they must prepare a proposal to a funding agency demonstrating that the proposed research has scientific merit and is relevant to human or animal health. Each proposal is evaluated by a panel of experts in the particular field, and is rejected if the proposed research is flawed, unnecessary or redundant. Funding is only granted to the most meritorious proposals. For example, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a Federal agency that funds most of the health research in Canada, only approves and funds a fraction of the proposals it receives.

Once her or his proposal is approved for funding, the researcher must submit an application for an animal care protocol to the UBC Animal Care Committee (click to view blank samples of an Animal Breeding Protocol, an Animal Research Protocol, and an Animal Teaching protocol). The application is closely scrutinized by members of the UBC Animal Care Committee, who verify that the proposed research plan is reasonable, and that the answers sought can only be obtained through the use of animals. Composed of members of UBC faculty and staff, as well as representatives from the public, the Animal Care Committee ensures the proposed procedures meet current humane and welfare standards and use as few animals as possible.

UBC subscribes to the 3Rs principles of animal use: Replacement, Reduction and Refinement. Careful design of the research project, continual refinement of procedures and emerging technologies all contribute to reducing numbers of animals used in research at UBC.

5. Why not use humans instead?

In Canada, federal law requires animal models must be used to assess new therapies before any human clinical trials may be conducted.

Humans and animals (with owner consent) do participate in studies called clinical trials. The research path to medical advances typically progresses from non-animal research, followed by research that uses animals, and finally clinical trials with human subjects. Federal laws strictly regulate such trials.

6. What safeguards exist to protect lab animals? Are there inspections?

Research animals are protected on several levels: by Federal and Provincial law, by independent veterinary staff and by UBC researchers themselves, who rely on humanely treated animals to provide reliable scientific results.

UBC must comply with provincial and federal Cruelty to Animals legislation and may be investigated by the relevant enforcement agencies. The Canadian Council on Animal Care audits UBC’s research program once every three years, looking at both animal care compliance and proper functioning of the Committee itself. The most recent official assessment visits were in 2010, 2007 and 2003. UBC currently meets or exceeds all CCAC requirements for humane animal care.

Animal facilities are inspected regularly by UBC Animal Care Centre veterinarians and annually by the Animal Care Committee. Some facilities are inspected more frequently, in particular facilities that hold large numbers of animals and larger animals. Inspection practices include post-approval monitoring by a UBC veterinarian to ensure the terms of the Animal Care Committee approval are being met.

All researchers and staff who work with animals are required to complete the mandatory Canadian Council on Animal Care training. A UBC veterinarian is on call at all times. UBC also has a “whistle-blower” policy that enables confidential reporting of questionable conduct relating to animal use.

7. Aren’t many animals experiencing unrelieved pain and distress?

The vast majority of animal research does not create any pain or discomfort. Many studies involve observation only; others may involve injections, taking small blood samples, or changes to feeding or breeding patterns.

Animals may experience pain during studies focused on diseases such as cancer or arthritis. Researchers must provide a pain management plan for any study that involves some degree of pain.

All studies that involve animals undergoing surgery or operative procedures must be accompanied by an approved pain management plan - including the use of anesthetics during or after the procedures - just like human patients.

All investigative procedures have pre-defined endpoints - signs and symptoms of distress (such as weight loss). In those few studies where animals may undergo some stress or pain, very specific endpoints are required. The investigation must stop when the endpoint is reached. No animal is left to die as a result of a procedure.

8. How do you know if animals feel pain?

Detecting and responding appropriately to prevent animal pain, distress and suffering is an important role of the animal care and research staff, who are specially trained to recognize symptoms of distress. (See Animal Care Committee web site for course information at

9. Which faculties use animals in research?

Arts 2 %
Dentistry 2.5 %
Forestry 1 %
Land & Food Systems 3.5 %
Medicine 69.5%
Pharmaceutical Sciences 5 %
Science 11.5%
Misc. 5%

10. How many animals and what species are used in research at UBC?

In 2013, a total of 216,450 animals were involved in 911 research and teaching protocols at UBC./p>

Birds, mammals (excluding rodents) and marine mammals each represent less than one per cent of total animals involved in research at UBC last year.

More than 97 per cent of the mammals involved in research were rodents (58.35 per cent of the grand total). Other animals involved in research were fish (28.55 per cent) and reptiles and amphibians (10.95 per cent).

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11. Does UBC use primates?

Chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are advanced and endangered primates. These higher primates are not used for research anywhere in Canada, and their use in research has virtually ceased worldwide.

Rhesus macaques are commonly used for human and animal health-related research because of their anatomical and physiological closeness to humans and the relative ease with which they can be cared for and bred in captivity.

A small number of macaques are involved in UBC studies on depression, Parkinson's disease and other brain disorders at UBC.

12. Where do research animals come from?

Research animals are purchased from professional suppliers who have bred them specifically for scientific research to ensure they are healthy and have uniform genetic characteristics.

Pets and stray animals are not acceptable for research. UBC does not obtain any animals from the SPCA; the BC SPCA is not legally permitted to provide animals for research. The University does not obtain research animals from any City Pound.

13. Is animal research worth it? Don’t we still have life-threatening diseases despite animal research?

Scientists are still seeking cures for many diseases, but new vaccines, medications, and treatments for humans, companion animals, domestic animals, fish and wildlife have been generated from animal research.

Advances in human health include treatments for Alzheimer’s, cancer, cystic fibrosis, and kidney disease. The fact is, no therapy for humans can be administered unless it has first been used with animals.

Pets and livestock have also benefited from these advances. In addition, animal research has led to vaccines that protect animals against rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, and other fatal conditions.

14. What happens to someone who mistreats lab animals?

Any UBC personnel found to have willfully mistreated research animals are banned permanently from further contact and may be banned from University premises. They may also face prosecution under the Criminal Code of Canada.

The use of animals in research is a privilege and not a right. There is zero tolerance for unethical or cruel treatment of animals in the UBC system.

15. Why do you have to use larger animals when mice and rats are available?

Complex differences in anatomy and functions sometimes make the use of larger animals necessary for some studies such as cardiac, obstetric and infectious diseases research.

For example, development of artificial heart valve and cardiac stent technology has used pigs or sheep because their hearts and blood vessels respond to drugs and anesthetics very much like those of humans and are similar in size.

16. What happens to animals once a study is completed?

When studies are minimally invasive, some research animals may be used in further studies. Others may be humanely euthanized when an investigation is completed to obtain valuable data, which cannot otherwise be obtained, through autopsies and microscopic examination.

Humane methods of euthanasia are required by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. Typically, the animal is first sedated or anesthetized and then given a lethal dose of anesthetic. This method ensures the animal feels no pain.

In some cases involving rodents or small birds, if the scientific outcome of the study will be compromised by use of anesthetic, animals are killed quickly without anesthetic. Such procedures must have strong scientific justification to be approved.

17. What happens if students don’t want to participate in animal research for ethical or religious reasons?

Students have the right to refuse participation, and the instructor and student will work together to find an alternative means of learning the material. For example, a student may observe a procedure only.

18. What benefits have animals gained through animal research?

Many techniques developed in research with animals are later applied to both human and veterinary clinical practice. For example, advanced surgical techniques such as total hip replacement and open-heart surgery are now available for pets thanks to animal research. In addition, animal research has led to vaccines that protect animals against rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, and other fatal conditions.

19. Why doesn’t UBC give out details of specific animal research projects?

This is incorrect. In fact, UBC, along with other research universities, is very open about the research program. Complete research findings and methods are published in scientific journals that can be accessed by the public.

20. Are the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) guidelines voluntary or mandatory?

Participation in CCAC programs is not voluntary. UBC must be accredited by the CCAC to receive funding from the federal government, which funds most university research in Canada. If the University fails to comply with the guidelines the Council has legal authority to immediately suspend animal care and research programs.

21. How is animal research assessed and approved??

The animal research process involves a series of steps designed to ensure scientific value, humane care and compliance with regulations. To follow this process, visit here.

2013 FAQ on CCAC

What is the CCAC, and how does it regulate UBC animal research? How often does it assess UBC labs?

The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) is the national organization responsible for setting and maintaining standards for the care and use of animals in science.

The Government of Canada on behalf of the public endorses CCAC standards for certification of animal care and use programs at all Canadian universities.

The CCAC assesses UBC’s animal research program every three years. The assessment, conducted by the CCAC assessment panel, composed of scientists, veterinarians and community representatives, consisted of site visits and assessments of all animal research and housing facilities and a detailed review of research protocols, veterinarian reports and Animal Care Committee meeting documentation.

UBC holds a CCAC Certificate of Good Animal Practice.

What is the Assessment Report and how is UBC expected to react to it?

The assessment is conducted by the CCAC assessment panel, comprised of scientists, veterinarians and community representatives. It consists of site visits of all animal research and housing facilities and a detailed review of research protocols, veterinarian reports and Animal Care Committee meeting documentation.

CCAC recommendations are divided into three categories based on the timeline required to address the issues (

Major recommendations must be addressed immediately. Implementation reports of serious and regular recommendations are due within three months and six months respectively after receiving the assessment report.

CCAC did not issue any major recommendations to UBC as a result of the 2013 assessment.

UBC has submitted implementation reports to all recommendations, and has subsequently received the CCAC Certificate of Good Animal Practice.

What is the primary finding of the 2013 CCAC Assessment Report?

CCAC Recommendations are divided into three categories based on the timeframe required to address recommendations: Major, Serious and Regular. No major recommendations were made as a result of the 2013 visit.

The report identifies Serious Recommendations: to ensure effective communication between research teams, veterinary and animal care staff, to make the best use of each facility, and to use and manage the facilities in well-coordinated, collaborative ways that will ensure sound standards of animal care and use and good services to animal users.

What is the Animal Care Committee?

The UBC Animal Care Committee (ACC) oversees all aspects of animal research at UBC. This includes ethical review as well as approval and monitoring of animal research procedures, conditions and facilities. Researchers submit detailed protocols (formal descriptions of investigative methods) to the ACC for consideration. No work involving animals can be done without committee approval.

Upon approval, the research is subject to annual reviews by the ACC, as well as routine audits through the post-approval monitoring program.

The ACC comprises up to 25 members, including a veterinarian, representatives from departments that both use and do not use research animals and the general public. The Committee meets 12 to18 times per year and conducts annual site visits to each animal care facility.

The 2013 CCAC Assessment Report commends members of the ACC for being “dedicated and engaged in promoting high standards of animal care and use.”

How are projects monitored after receiving approval?

Once approved by the ACC, research protocols are subject to annual reviews by the ACC, as well as routine audits through the post-approval monitoring program.

A Continuing Review team which includes a full-time veterinarian is assigned to monitor and continuously review the progress of research protocols and care of animals, as part of UBC’s post-approval monitoring program.

How many veterinarians work at UBC and what is their role?

There are five clinical veterinarians at UBC. This, coupled with centralizing more research facilities and the completion of three new state-of-the-art facilities, enables veterinarians to visit sites in frequencies far exceeding mandated requirement of the CCAC.

UBC veterinary staff is on call 24/7, 365 days a year for emergencies involving animals. They also develop, implement and certify training to students and research staff.

A Continuing Review team, which includes a full-time veterinarian is assigned to monitor and continuously review the progress of research protocols and care of animals, as part of UBC’s post-approval monitoring program.

What sort of training is required for those who use animals? What kind of role do students play in animal research and what kind of training do they receive?

All graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, researchers and staff involved in animal research must complete an online ethics course. In addition, there are courses which are mandatory for rodent research, depending on specific procedures performed, that covers anesthesia, surgery and rodent biology. Researchers must pass written and hands-on exams designed by veterinarians. A certificate is then issued and is valid for five years, upon which time personnel are retrained and re-certified.

Undergraduate students involved in short-term research projects are not required to complete a full suite of training, or to be formally listed in research protocols; however, they are personally supervised by senior researchers at all times while working with animals.

When new students and staff join research projects, they are added to the approved animal research protocols by amendment. Only those who actively handle animals are listed in protocols and each listing details how the individual is involved in animal research and their training.

Why does the report redact the names of the animal facilities at UBC?

UBC has invested more than $100 million in building new state-of-the-art animal care facilities while upgrading existing ones. Since 2004, the number of facilities has decreased, allowing for better use of resources, management and veterinary services.

The new and upgraded facilities provide care and housing above and beyond standards currently required by CCAC guidelines and regulations, including enhanced environmental enrichment that allow animals to express natural behaviours.

Names of these facilities have been redacted for the safety and security of personnel and animals.

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