Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


  Whilst the Division of Biological Services remains optimistic about the future of MRC's NIMR in partnership with UCL or KCL we foresee a number of major disadvantages to moving away from the Mill Hill site. These are principally:

    —  Loss of potential for expansion.  The current Mill Hill site is located on a 47 acre site, only a fraction of which has been built upon. There is more than adequate space for expanding the animal facilities within the current buildings as well as constructing new units/buildings on the site within the secure perimeter fence. Future changes in legislation are likely to require larger rodent cages—therefore the space required to house our current numbers of animals is likely to increase, this can easily be accommodated at Mill Hill and must form part of the considerations of a site elsewhere.

    —  Loss of flexibility.  The animal facilities occupy six buildings on the current site, all within a short distance from the main building. This provides unequalled flexibility to house different species, meet the needs of changing science and changes in legislation. The health status of the different units can be managed individually within central control minimising any disruption to the science in the event of a microbiological breakdown and the flexibility to treat, contain or rederive stocks quickly and efficiently.

    —  Reduced access to research models.  All the current animal facilities are within easy reach of the main building and therefore scientists and support staff have access and a hands-on approach to the use of animals in their research. This is extremely important to ensure best use of animals and a responsible attitude to using animals in research with easy communication with animal care staff and experienced animal technicians. This ensures work is done promptly whilst ensuring the highest standards of care & welfare. We firmly believe that an animal unit remote from the science cannot encourage or meet best practice or ensure minimum numbers are used.

    —  Difficulties in staff recruitment.  Many of the animal facilities within central London are experiencing problems with recruitment and retention of animal technicians. This is not a problem at NIMR. Currently, 70 out of 71 posts within Biological Services are filled. Experience from the Mary Lyon Centre should demonstrate the importance of having enough trained and committed technicians to stock a new unit. Experience from many animal units across the UK demonstrates that difficulties arise when there is a mix of MRC & University employees in animal units.

    —  Waste.  Apart from a waste of money and resources (a new SPF facility was opened at NIMR less than two years ago) the likely increased waste of animals is of concern to many within the Division and Institute as a whole. Currently our operations can provide models to a number of different research groups and sharing tissues and organs is commonplace.

    —  Inability to recreate containment facilities.  This poses a real problem. Our Containment II to IV facilities have been carefully designed and managed to be able to meet the needs of the current work carried out in them, but also with adaptability and flexibility to be used for new models or potentially emerging diseases.

    —  Loss of training resources.  Our facilities, especially those for Containment of pathogen infected animals, Aquatics and Transgenic species are of importance for training both scientific staff and animal technicians without impinging on the "day-to-day" work of the units. This would be hard to recreate elsewhere.

    —  Potential loss of SPF facilities.  Our SPF facilities are unique and keep cost of animal supply at a very low level. There is a long list of practical advantages for retaining an MRC SPF supply unit: refinement and reduction of numbers due to critical mass/scale of the operations is a good example. It would be very difficult to recreate new SPF facilities and the time involved would impede progress of science.

    —  Reduced cost-effectiveness.  Alongside our SPF facilities, the scale of the animal work at NIMR ensures a cost-effective practice—commonly as units decrease in size they become more expensive to run and maintain.

    —  Likely animal rights protests.  Experience from Oxford and Cambridge indicates a likely problem from animal rights activists during the construction of new animal facilities.

    —  Additional security problems.  It is unlikely that the protests that are observed on a Wednesday at Mill Hill will go away. The experience in dealing with this, and the safety of the site should not be ignored.

    —  Time involved in moving animal models.  Duplication of models. Even if the SPF units could be moved as they stand, the remaining models at Mill Hill will need to be recreated elsewhere. This is a mammoth undertaking, as well as likely to increase the numbers of animals used (surgical rederivation of strains) and a huge and needless cull of animals at Mill Hill. There would be a significant time involved to recreate lines (see Mary Lyon centre) and therefore a delay in productive science.

    —  Accessibility of site for deliveries etc.  The Mill Hill site is easily accessible for the continual need for deliveries of animal food, bedding and other essential supplies. Central London will have reduced access and is therefore a huge disadvantage.

    —  MRC-T's reliance on animal units.  MRC-T currently requires the facilities of NIMR for translational research requiring animal models—loss of the Mill Hill facilities would be a huge blow to their work.

Kathleen Mathers
Steve Clements
Pete Dawson
David Key
RoseMary Murphy
Paul Lynch
Sarah Johnson
Marie Caulfield
Clare Brazill
Alec Gallagher
Alison Collyer
Treena Carter

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