'It's not easy, but there's no alternative to animal tests,say Leicester scientists as £16m centre opens its doors
City scientists are proud about their work in trying to find new treatments for devastating conditions such as cancer or a stroke.
However, they accept there may be concerns that the early stages of their research involves testing treatments on rats or mice.
To explain how essential the work is, the Leicester Mercury was invited behind the scenes of the new £16 million research centre which has opened at the University of Leicester.
One researcher was fitting a tiny drugs pump in a mouse before a stroke was induced.
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The aim is to find new and better ways of treating hundreds of people a year in Leicestershire who have a mini-stroke.
Professor Mike Barer, director of research at the university's College of Medicine, said: "I think we are all uncomfortable about studies involving animals.
"We do it because there is no alternative.
"We have to be able to see how cells interact with each other and the only way, at the moment, is to do this through using an animal.
"It is not inconceivable in the future there might be a way to recreate this without using animals."
Prof Barer, a vegetarian, is working on a treatment for tuberculosis (TB). It is one of 40 projects involving looking for treatments for cancer, heart disease, strokes and neurological diseases.
He said: "Three people a minute die from TB worldwide but we cannot try out new treatments on people without testing them first."
Prof Barer was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago.
He said: "All knowledge of the different causes of diabetes is down to research on animals. Insulin was first discovered in dogs."
Toads, whose eggs are used in research, along with rats, mice and fish, are the only animals used for medical research at the University of Leicester.
Care, cleanliness and constant regulation are central to the everyday operation of the new centre.
The animals live in cages equipped with food, drink and nesting materials, in rooms which are kept sterile.
There is a £2 million MRI scanner which will enable scientists to better track cancerous tumours to see how they develop in mice and rats.
Dave Hall, the university's registrar and secretary who is responsible for making sure all the legal standards are met in the centre, said: "There are always going to be those who morally don't agree with what is happening but we are trying to be transparent in what is actually happening.
"We hope it will help them understand the evidence and what science has been achieved.
"It would also be helpful if there was some NHS recognition that work on new drugs and procedures involves animals.
"There is a reluctance to recognise that a lot of the work on drugs would have been based on animal research."