University of Delaware

Animals in Research and Teaching at UD

Classified as a major research institution with very high activity by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the University of Delaware conducts a broad range of studies pertaining to human and animal health, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, influenza and other diseases.


1. What animals are used in research and teaching at the University of Delaware?

Research and teaching programs at the University of Delaware may involve a variety of animal subjects, including laboratory mice and rats, poultry, sheep, cattle, horses, birds, fish and shellfish. The majority of animals used in research at UD are laboratory mice and rats.

2. Who approves/oversees the use of animals in research and teaching at UD?

Research or teaching activities involving vertebrate and agricultural animals must be reviewed and approved by the University’s federally mandated animal care and use committees, which operate under federal regulations from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as University policy. The mission of the University’s Office of Laboratory Animal Medicine is to ensure the humane care of all animals used in approved research and teaching.

IACUC. UD’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) oversees the use of vertebrate and agricultural animals in research and teaching performed by University employees or by users of the University’s animal facilities, or on University animals housed at non-University sites. The IACUC reviews and approves protocols for animal care and use and is authorized to suspend or withhold approval of any activity involving animals that is not in accordance with federal regulations or University policy. The IACUC conducts a semi-annual onsite inspection of animal facilities and a review of all related policies, and investigates any concerns involving the care and use of animals at the University.

UD’s IACUC is mandated to have at least five members, including a chairperson; a doctor of veterinary medicine; a practicing scientist experienced in research involving animals; an individual whose expertise is in a non-scientific area; and a member of the public — not affiliated with UD — who represents the general community. More information is available on the Animal Subjects in Research web page.

3. How are animals used in teaching at UD?

UD offers a variety of courses in life science majors and minors, from pre-veterinary medicine and animal and food science, to marine biology and biological science, where hands-on experience is critical to student education.

At UD’s 300-acre Newark farm complex, for example, students quickly learn what farmers have long known: healthy animals are productive animals. The dairy cows on the UD farm supply the milk that makes the ice cream and milk shakes sold at the UDairy Creamery, and sheep provide wool for the Blue Hen blankets sold there.

Whether instructors and students will be putting a halter on a farm animal or taking an animal’s temperature or pulse, the procedure must be reviewed and approved in advance by the University’s animal care and use committee.

4. How are animals used in research at UD?

As a major research institution, the University of Delaware is involved in a broad range of studies pertaining to human and animal health, from cancer and heart disease in humans, to climate change impacts on chickens and lameness in cows.
Animal research funded by the National Institutes of Health and other federal agencies on the basic biological foundations of behavior, including learning and memory, development, and neural plasticity and its translation to human behavior and cognition, is actively investigated at UD. Research in biotechnology, cell biology, cell and organ systems physiology, ecology and evolution, microbiology, molecular biology and genetics is making strong impacts on improving our understanding of the basic mechanisms of health and disease.

UD is an international leader in research on poultry diseases and plays a vital role in the poultry health network working to protect the state’s $3.2-billion poultry industry from avian influenza. UD tests samples taken from chickens from every flock that goes to market as part of an avian influenza surveillance program in conjunction with the Delmarva poultry industry and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

An outbreak of the low-pathogenic H7N2 avian influenza caused a scare on the Delmarva Peninsula in 2004, but was tamped down quickly and limited to three farms — a feat attributed to rapid diagnosis, quarantine, proper dead bird disposal and decontamination. This efficient response and control — credited to the teamwork of state government, poultry growers, the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., and the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland — has been hailed as a “national model” by the USDA. UD researchers continue to share the approach with colleagues in the U.S. and abroad via technical assistance programs in Romania, Bulgaria, Brazil and other countries.

5. Why does UD use animals in research?

As a major research institution, the University of Delaware conducts a broad range of studies pertaining to human and animal health. Alternatives to live animals are used whenever possible in research, but some questions still can only be answered in a living system. For research on human disease, the types of animals used are chosen for their similarity to humans in anatomy, physiology and/or genetics. Only the fewest number of the most appropriate species are used to validate a particular research study.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 95% of all animals used in research are laboratory rats and mice. These laboratory animals enable researchers to answer scientific questions at a macro- and microscopic level, yielding information that may help formulate new medical treatments and cures. By using the methods put forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association, scientists ensure a humane endpoint for laboratory research animals.

6. What are some of UD's animal-research related capabilities?

UD’s animal-research related facilities feature such state-of-the-art diagnostic tools as ultra-sound, blood analyzers, a full X-ray unit, and a novel portable hand-held X-ray unit. In 2010, UD was the first research animal care facility in the nation to use this hand-held device, which is a non-invasive, diagnostic instrument the size of a police radar detector that rapidly takes X-rays of laboratory animals without the need for anesthesia. High-resolution digital pictures are available in minutes, enabling researchers to measure bone lengths and their thickness, for example, in a completely non-invasive procedure.

7. What medical breakthroughs has animal research advanced?

Research with animals has contributed significant medical breakthroughs for humans and for animals. Studies in animals led to the discovery of insulin for treating diabetes, the rabies vaccine, corneal transplants and screening for carcinogens, the substances that cause cancer. Animal-based research has helped to unlock the secrets of tumor biology at the molecular level, leading to new cancer treatment therapies that specifically target abnormal cells. It also has been essential to the development of statins for controlling high cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease, as well as clot-busting agents that reduce the effects of a stroke. This research has yielded treatments for numerous diseases including childhood leukemia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis C, epilepsy, and cystic fibrosis.

Research with animals also has benefited animal health in many ways, particularly through advances in vaccine product development and optimal protocols of administration across a variety of species and infectious agents. Examples commonly encountered by pet owners include the vaccines for canine parvovirus, distemper and rabies, and the feline leukemia vaccine. Animal research has generated new surgical procedures in canine hip replacement, cruciate ligament repair and degenerative disc disease in dogs. Additionally, research to develop and optimize nutrition and reproductive programs has rendered U.S. agriculture the most production-efficient industry in the world while minimizing negative impacts of agriculture productivity on the environment. Research with animals also has improved breeding programs for endangered species such as pandas and white tigers, among others.

8. Where can I learn more?

National Institutes of Health Medical Research with Animals

Americans for Medical Progress

USDA Animal Welfare Information Center