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Supporting animal welfare

The MRC is strongly committed to animal welfare. This means housing animals well, ensuring their environment provides them with opportunities to exhibit natural behaviours, looking after their psychological well-being, and keeping them in good physical health.

For research procedures, it means regularly refining techniques so that they cause the minimum discomfort, and using anaesthetic and painkillers for the small percentage of invasive procedures, such as surgery, so that animals experience minimal pain.


The quality of housing and husbandry has a major impact on laboratory animal health and welfare. High standards of welfare in turn have a bearing on the research itself – unhealthy animals make for poor science. The MRC ensures that housing allows animals to perform the widest possible range of normal, species-typical behaviour. Consideration is given not only to the quality of accommodation but also the quantity of space provided.

Different species have different requirements, and an animal’s natural habitat and behaviour is taken into consideration in order to provide appropriate accommodation.

Where appropriate, all animals are housed in compatible social groups and provided with extensive environmental enrichment. For example, mice and other rodents these will include containers and tubes made of cardboard and plastic, nesting material and wood for gnawing. Macaques are provided with climbing apparatus and special feed which is scattered onto the litter to encourage foraging behaviour.

Highly trained animal technicians

The day-to-day care of animals at the MRC is provided by highly trained animal technicians who take their responsibilities to the animals, the scientists and the UK Home Office legislation very seriously. They are responsible for providing the highest standards of care for the animals, and work with the researchers to ensure that the science is also of the highest quality. The MRC is also committed to ensuring a high standard of training and education for animal technicians and support staff at all stages of their careers.

Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for Biological Services staff includes various formal and informal learning, training and experiences: competency based qualifications allow training specific to the individual and their work while Open University and Institute of Animal Technology (IAT) qualifications deliver a wide knowledge of laboratory animal science and a good background in biological sciences.

Technicians are also encouraged to spend time in research labs in order to gain hands-on experience of experimental procedures, and attend workshops and seminars held regularly on a variety of laboratory animal science related subjects. Visits to other scientific establishments, symposiums and international meetings are also organised which enable technicians to gain experience in more varied aspects of laboratory animal husbandry and science.

Apprenticeship Development Scheme

In September 2015, the MRC completed a pilot scheme  to develop and implement an animal technician apprenticeship and this has now been taken up by other employees in the animal technology industry. The MRC employs approximately 400 animal technicians, at various levels, who provide an essential and specialised animal care and procedural service.

In addition, it has organised its facilities so that the best possible scientific results are gained from our work with animals. Animal technologists are therefore required not only to train in husbandry skills and implement a culture of care but to also receive scientific training to understand both the animal and scientific requirements.

As an organisation with a Royal Charter remit to train those working in science in the UK we have, on our own initiative, with support from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills have started to develop the next level of Trailblazer Animal Technology apprenticeships.  This has been with the support from other major employers in this field who share our aims and objectives. The level and size of the Apprenticeship is appropriate to existing qualifications, and allows for the development of skills knowledge and behaviours which are transferable across the industry sectors.

It will allow progression onto other existing recognised professional qualifications without the need to repeat any learning and will keep the number of qualifications at a reasonable and manageable level. This helps employers to understand the pathway for professional development, and also to manage training costs.

In addition, with added emphasis on training and supervision, the scheme will also help compliance with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act amended 2012 following transposition of EU directive 2010/63/EU. 

Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS) and Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer (NACWOs)

Animals at MRC establishments are inspected at least once daily in compliance with the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). It is a legal requirement under the act for designated establishments to have a Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS), on call 24 hours a day, to provide advice and ensure the well-being of individual animals and whole colonies. Every designated establishment must also have a Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer (NACWO) who must ensure that the husbandry and care of animals are practiced to the highest standards. The NVS works closely with the (NACWO), authorised by the Home Office and independent from the scientific research, to make certain that the care and welfare of animals is monitored in accordance with ASPA.