Animal research can be a controversial issue. It involves complex questions across science, health, animal welfare, and ethics and is the subject of ongoing social and scientific debate. There have recently been moves to develop more inclusive conversations around animal research, which bring publics, patients, and researchers together. This film is an extract from one experiment in putting together a new group of people to talk about animal research.

One afternoon, three volunteers from the Alzheimer’s Society Research Network, three Alzheimer’s researchers, and the lay member of an Animal Welfare and Ethics Review Board met to talk over tea. Their aim was to start a new conversation.

There is now more openness about animal research. Scientists are being more open about their work with animals and alternatives. Regulators are publishing more about the statistics on scientific procedures on living animals and compliance with regulations. People affected by health disorders are helping shape priorities and protocols for medical research about their condition, which may include animal research. Lay representatives are advising the ethical review boards regulating animal research. Publics are invited to learn more about research that involves animals and the way it is governed.

These emerging conversations involve challenges, particularly about how to bring these different perspectives together. There are still questions around how to create meaningful exchanges between publics, patients, and scientists that are valuable for everyone involved. People affected by health conditions, public representatives on committees, and research scientists may all engage with animal research from different perspectives.

This film shows that people can talk across these differences, through listening to each other, exploring what is distinctive about their position, and reflecting on the responsibilities for research ethics, for patient advocacy, and for animal welfare that come with their different roles. You can read more about the different participants after the short extract of their filmed conversation below.

The participation of Alzheimer’s Society Research Network Volunteers

Terry Tomkow, Jean Tomkow, and Gillian Harrison are members of the Alzheimer’s Society’s Research Network. The Alzheimer's Society believes that people with dementia and carers can make a unique and valuable contribution in every stage of research. They have pioneered this work through the establishment of the Research Network, which includes a team of over 280 carers, former carers, and people living with dementia. These volunteers play an active role in dementia research, co-designing research projects, setting research priorities, and making decisions on grant funding panels. Research Network volunteers also monitor ongoing projects and help share and disseminate the results.

The contribution of Animal Welfare and Ethical Board Review lay members

Olwen Goodall is the lay member of an Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) at University of Exeter. Animal experiments in the UK are regulated by the Home Office, which is responsible for carrying out the formal ethical evaluation and authorisation of projects. All UK establishments breeding or using animals for scientific procedures must have an institutional AWERB to consider project applications and monitor them locally. The AWERB is made of people who have different responsibilities for animals at the establishment and a lay representative, whose role is to bring a different and independent set of perspectives to discussions about animal use.

The work of the research scientists

Dr Francesco Tamagnini is Lecturer in Pharmacology at the University of Reading and previously Junior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. His work involves recording the electrical activity of brain cells, called neurons, from a brain area responsible for memory and learning, called the hippocampus. The recordings are performed on sections of brain tissue from mice that show symptoms of dementia.

Dr Charlie Jeynes is a Wellcome Trust Fellow working at the Centre for Biomedical Modelling and Analysis, University of Exeter. His work investigates the implications of very small particles, called nanoparticles, for human health, using specialist imaging techniques to trace how nanoparticles affect human cells and tissue.

Dr Kyle Wedgwood is an MRC research fellow in the Centre for Biomedical Modelling and Analysis, University of Exeter. Kyle uses mathematical modelling to understand how cells come together to form biological networks that can perform functional tasks, focusing on the brain, memory, and spatial navigation.

We invite you to explore the further work that Rich Gorman and Gail Davies are doing on patient engagement and public involvement in animal research as part of the Animal Research Nexus Project.