Research Ethics

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Research involving the use of animals

We know that asthma is a complex condition, and our researchers are still piecing together the information to answer important questions that will help to identify the underlying causes and find new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent asthma. Under certain circumstances, some of this research cannot be done without involving animals. Asthma UK understands and appreciates that people do have concerns about medical research involving animals, and charities providing funding support for it, and shares people's concerns about the well-being of animals in medical research.

Asthma UK supports the Home Office's commitment to the '3Rs', which serves to refine experimental techniques and procedures, reduce the number of animals involved in research and replace animals in research wherever possible.

  • All Asthma UK supported researchers whose research projects involve the use of animals follow strict laws and require licenses from the Home Office for both themselves and the project itself.
  • Each research project application is carefully screened and reviewed by Asthma UK's Research Committee of scientific and medical experts, and is also peer-reviewed by other international experts. There is a dedicated section within the application form for researchers to provide justification for the use of animals which reviewers use in order to assess the suitability of the proposed use of animals.
  • The research project must meet Asthma UK's strict criteria, including how it will help us to learn more about asthma, and adhere to the Home Office's guidelines for the welfare of the animals.
  • Asthma UK is a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and we adhere to their guidelines on medical research involving animals, and endorse their position on the use of animals in research.

There is currently no cure for asthma and there are around half a million people whose asthma is still difficult to control even with current therapies. Through research, we have made major advances in medical understanding and some of this research has involved the use of animals. This includes the development of asthma inhalers, the mainstay of treatments today.

We would like to reassure our supporters that Asthma UK would only consider funding research involving animals if all other possibilities have been carefully and fully considered, the research is not an unnecessary duplication of previous work and it is likely to lead to essential information that could otherwise not be achieved by alternative methods.

You can find out more about the use of animals in research in the following resources:

Use of embryos in research

Funding research into the causes of asthma is a priority for people with asthma, Asthma UK and our supporters because we still do not know exactly why some people develop asthma or how to prevent it. Our research programme reflects the views and experiences of people with asthma and the leading current opinions and knowledge in science and asthma care.

Asthma UK understands and appreciates that people do have concerns about medical research involving human embryos, and charities providing funding support for it. Asthma UK does not currently fund any projects that require human or hybrid human embryos but as a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities, backs their support of the use of human embryos and the creation of hybrid human embryos when the research has the potential to make significant medical advances.

Under strict regulations, human embryos may be created and maintained outside the body for no longer than 14 days to provide a source of stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialised cells that have the potential to become any type of cell within the human body. These cells can provide vital information on how conditions develop because they enable us to study how cells mature from the very early stages. In certain circumstances, the shells of animal eggs may house human DNA taken from patients to produce hybrid human embryos. Human embryos or human hybrid embryos could be used in this way in asthma research to look at how the cells of the airways develop in the first place. Alternatively, the stem cells might be used as a source of new airway tissue for people with asthma.

Asthma UK has not excluded the possibility of providing funding for this research area in the future but such research would take into consideration the views of people with asthma, healthcare professionals and researchers on this sensitive issue. Should the circumstances arise and Asthma UK were to agree to fund this research, proposed work would have to comply with the very strict legal requirements as outlined by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990) following approval by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

The annual call for research proposals, our research strategy and summaries of all funded research are made public on our website, along with scientific publications arising from the research projects.

We would like to reassure our supporters that Asthma UK would only consider funding this research if it is likely to give essential information that could not be achieved by alternative methods.

Supporting research in universities

Asthma UK endorses the AMRC position statement supporting research in universities

Since 2008, medical research charities have invested nearly £12 billion in UK universities. In 2018, 87% of all UK medical research funded by AMRC’s members took place directly in universities.

The Charity Research Support Fund (CRSF) underpins charity investment in university research across England (similar funds are provided in the devolved nations). The CRSF was first put forward in the 2004 Science & innovation investment framework[1] and was introduced in 2006. Since then the fund has supported significant charity funding of research in universities, despite its value not keeping track with increasing levels of charity investment nor inflation. The sustainability of charity funded research in universities is a key advocacy priority for AMRC on behalf of its members.

The CRSF allows universities to effectively leverage research funding from charities by enabling the recovery of some of the indirect costs of research that charities do not pay. These costs include estates, shared IT and administration overheads. The CRSF is administered via quality-related (QR) funding and is awarded on the basis of charity funding received the previous year.

The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 set out the criteria identifying the research funding that is eligible for the CRSF. These criteria include that the research should be for the public good, that the funder should have a published research strategy and that the research should be competitively assessed to be of high quality. All of AMRC’s member charities are eligible for the CRSF due to our quality standards set out in our membership criteria.

The CRSF was introduced as a partnership between charities, government and universities to support charity research funding towards sustainability, enabling universities in receipt of charity grants to achieve a higher level of full economic costs (FEC). AMRC supports the principle that universities should aim for a sustainable research base. This requires all institutions to have an understanding of the full costs of their research activity and to be transparent in the way they account for these costs.

Research in UK HEIs is funded from a variety of sources, with different levels of resource, priorities, objectives and histories. Charities differ from other funders in the way they fund research. They are independent from government and their purpose is to channel generous donations for the public and others to support research for public benefit that will improve health and wellbeing. Charities must take into account their own research priorities, the expectations of their donors and the needs and opportunities of their communities, including patients and the public. In response, they have developed many different funding schemes that provide both short- and long-term support for people and projects, research units and centres, capital including major equipment and buildings, and challenge-led strategic funding calls. AMRC expects HEIs to take the unique way that charities fund research into account when pricing the research they support.

The next two or three years will be a significant period of change for the UK’s research sector with the impact of Brexit and COVID-19, renewed focus on global research partnerships, significant new public investment in R&D and an increased focus on challenge-led, mission oriented R&D. AMRC will be working with its member charities and research institutions to understand better how charity funding partnerships can be placed on a sustainable footing across the range of research activity and types of research institutions. These discussions will be based upon the following principles:

  • AMRC charities remain committed to supporting research and the careers of talented researchers in UK universities;
  • AMRC believes that government is primarily responsible for provision of underpinning funding for the UK biomedical science base;
  • Where it is within their charitable objects and appropriate for them to do so, AMRC encourages its member charities to contribute towards a sustainable science base in universities through the support of longer-term funding for people and facilities;
  • Universities should understand the full economic costs of proposed research facilities or activities when seeking financial support from charities;
  • Charities will not normally meet the full economic costs of the research they are supporting, especially for responsive mode funding calls;
  • Universities will be expected to contribute resources from QR, including the charity support element, in order to meet the full costs of research in partnership with charities;
  • Charities will not contribute a percentage overhead towards general university infrastructure;
  • Charities are unlikely to respond positively to demands to fund research activity on the basis of a fixed percentage of research costs (as is the case for other funders including the Research Councils); and
  • AMRC will work with member charities, government and universities to develop new models of partnership funding that will enable charities of all sizes to develop their commitment to research in a sustainable way.

[1] The Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 http://news.bbc.co.uk/nol/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/science_innovation_120704.pdf

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