How we care for our animals

Fraser Darling, biological services manager, holding a nude mouse.

The facilities where animals are used for research at QMUL are designated by the UK government via the Home Office. The rooms and associated areas where the animals are kept are subject to strict requirements regarding environmental temperature, humidity and air changes, depending on the species kept there.

The staff that look after the animals are professional, trained and competent, and follow different routes of qualification depending on the type of work they perform. 

The routine animal husbandry procedures provide the animals with the best care at all times and make their surroundings comfortable. Staff also regularly look for ways to further refine the way they work with animals. 

There is a veterinary surgeon available on a 24-hour on-call basis in the event of emergencies, and the vet also visits on a regular basis.

Analgesics (pain relief) and anaesthetics are used on animals where appropriate, and researchers and animal technicians are on duty each day to check the welfare of the animals and report any concerns.

I love working with animals and I am here to ensure the animals under my care have the best lives that they can.
Reiss Browning – Animal Technician

Some of the procedures involve scanning the animals in special equipment, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and digital ultrasound. These specialised items of equipment are able to provide much-needed information on the progression of tumours or disease in the animals, which are anaesthetised before each of these procedures. The number of procedures carried out on each animal is minimised as a result of using these scanning machines.

The researchers who perform procedures on animals must also attend and satisfactorily complete mandatory training, before being allowed to work with animals. These training courses are held in-house and are accredited by the Royal Society of Biology in the UK.

One of the Biological Services Managers at QMUL, Fraser Darling, was the Home Office nominated expert representing the UK at the European Commission to transpose the recent EU Directive 2010/63 into the UK legislative framework, which included training requirements as a result of the output of the EU Expert Working Group on Education and Training. He is also Chair of the Royal Society of Biology Accreditation Board, which oversees training courses for researchers and others, both in the UK and in some EU countries.

"We ensure the animals get the best possible care"

Reiss Browning – animal technician

I have been working full time here for nearly six years. However I have been working in the summer holidays throughout full-time education since I was 15.

I love working with animals and I am here to ensure the animals under my care have the best lives that they can. I look after them and provide them with a stimulating environment so that they can behave in much the same way as would be expected for each species in the wild.

Every day is very different. The main thing each day is that I check all my animals to make sure there are no health concerns and ensure that all husbandry requirements are being met. But the range of jobs that I could do are endless. For example, I do all different types of procedures: injections, ear marking and feeding with oral tubes. Less attractive, but essential, is cage washing.

I act as a guardian and help researchers care for their animals according to their personal and project licenses. I have to make sure that individuals who work here are able to handle rodents and work in a manner that is safe for the animal.

I love the science. Research is a vital aspect in pioneering new drugs, procedures and medical advances throughout the world. At present we have to work with animals for this. However, those who are against the use of animals in research would be surprised by how small the percentage of animals used actually is compared to how many animals are slaughtered for food, or stray animals that are put down.

I’m 25 now and I’m currently working my way through the Institute of Animal Technology qualifications.

"I believe that our work here will be beneficial to humans"

Arif Mustafa – senior animal technician

I started working here in 1979 as it had a reputation for being one of the best places to be an animal technician. I’ve seen many changes since then; there have been big improvements in the environment where the animals live, and there’s more accountability, with researchers having to provide greater justification for the research they do with animals.

I believe that the work done with animals will be beneficial to humans. I wouldn't be doing this job if I didn't feel comfortable that it's for medical research that is justified because there is no clear alternative to using animals for many aspects of research, such as drug development.

My work includes cage cleaning, feeding and watering, but as a senior technician my daily tasks also involve teaching researchers how to do technical procedures on their animals, such as injection sites, humane methods of euthanasia, assisting them in the theatre preparation, using aseptic techniques, sterilised instruments and use of anaesthetic machines, and, importantly, about the Home Office regulations as to what they can and can't do once that they've been granted a licence to carry out procedures. All these things are done to ensure the animals suffer as little as possible during their time under a regulated experiment. 

I got my first animal qualification certificate here and I am continuing studies by attending meetings and workshops involved with animal care, and Home Office courses. One of the things that I enjoy about my job is trying to show and explain to people at QMUL that the lives of animals under their responsibility should be treated with respect.