Research at APHA

We undertake research and surveillance activities on a range of bacterial, viral and parasitic diseases affecting plants and animals, including wildlife.

Much of APHA’s scientific activity is focused on protecting the UK against the threat and impact of a wide variety of plant and animal diseases and other species conflicts. Many of these diseases are zoonotic, which means the infection is transmitted from animals to humans.

Scientific research

Our research provides scientific evidence that allows us to provide expert advice and supports policy development for the government, devolved administrations, the European Union, United Nations Food and Agriculture Authority (FAO), the World Association for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in our capacity as international reference centre for a large range of diseases.

Staff from APHA also work with academia, industry, farmers, vets and managers in the field and undertake surveillance activities to detect and respond to exotic diseases, and to identify and assess new and emerging diseases in livestock and wildlife. See the APHA Vet Gateway for more information on our surveillance expertise and activities.

The agency undertakes a broad range of research on a range variety of plant, animal and wildlife diseases including emerging pathogens, endemic and exotic viral diseases, bovine TB, food-borne bacteria and antimicrobial resistance.

Our main areas of research include:

  • bovine tuberculosis and development of vaccines and diagnostic tests for cattle
  • bacterial diseases and food safety including food-borne bacteria such as Salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli, bacterial pathogens such as Brucella and Mycoplasma, and antimicrobial resistance
  • viral diseases including avian and mammalian viruses such as Newcastle disease, influenza and classical swine fever, zoonotic and wildlife viruses such as rabies and vector-borne diseases
  • transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs)
  • wildlife management including wildlife diseases, invasive non-native species, methods development and human-wildlife conflicts

These activities are delivered via the agency’s scientific disciplines: epidemiology, virology, bacteriology, pathology, parasitology, biomathematics, modelling and risk analysis, molecular biology, immunology and ecology.

Science strategy and review

Our science strategy, 2021 to 2026 outlines how science is embedded across APHA and is the foundation for the evidence and expert advice provided to policy customers, industry and stakeholders in delivering threat awareness, definition and mitigation.

International science

The International Development Programme was established in 2018 to respond to the risks and opportunities of Brexit and to develop new engagement strategies at an international level in support of future UK global trade deals. This work has involved reviewing a number of priority policy areas including trade and border arrangements, vaccine suppliers, as well as establishing new international reference laboratory centres.

APHA has a long standing reputation as a world leading centre of veterinary science expertise and this is acknowledged by our status as a National and International Reference Laboratory (PDF, 261KB, 1 page) for a wide range of infectious and non-infectious diseases in animals. The agency provides veterinary and scientific consultancy to countries throughout the world offering:

  • confirmatory testing
  • technical training and expert consultancy
  • development and standardisation of diagnostic methods to ensure they are fit for purpose to detect new strains of pathogens

For further information on the international development work contact APHAIDT@apha.gov.uk.

Further information

Science blog

See our APHA Science blog to read more about our science and research work at APHA. You can also subscribe for email updates whenever the blog is updated.

Scientific papers

Contact

If you have an enquiry about our research or reference laboratory, email apha.corporatecorrespondence@apha.gov.uk

Commercial services

APHA Scientific offers a range of commercial scientific services and products to customers outside of government.

Full details can be found on the APHA Scientific web pages.

Ethics Committee

For APHA to achieve its mission to “safeguard animal and plant health for the benefit of people, the environment and the economy” it is necessary to do scientific research into diseases that affect this.

Part of this research involves the use of animals. To do this, APHA complies with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It also has a code of practice, working procedures and training programmes to define and enforce the high standards the agency must have for this type of work.

APHA has its own Ethics Committee which must review and approve all experiments involving the use of animals for a scientific purpose before they begin. The committee members include vets, animal care staff, a biostatistician, scientists and non-scientists from across the agency. There are also external lay members of the committee, recruited from the local community, who bring an independent view to the proceedings.

The Ethics Committee ensures that the 3 Rs* have been applied to the study proposal:

  • replacement – if an animal experiment can be replaced by non-living alternatives then it must be

  • reduction – the number of animals used must be the minimum that is consistent with the production of meaningful results

  • refinement – all aspects of care and use of animals from the beginning to end of the study must be designed to minimise the impacts on the animals welfare

After this stage, each proposed study is then subject to a harm-benefit analysis, when the harms caused are weighed against the potential benefits from the work. Only where the potential benefits outweigh the harms is a project justified and only then does APHA undertake studies using animals

The Ethics Committee and those involved with the work also complete retrospective analyses of the experiments to ensure benefits are achieved, and to continually improve the refinement of experiments.

APHA is a signatory to the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research - Understanding Animal Research.

See the research using animals at APHA under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act in 2018 (PDF, 85.1KB, 3 pages)

*Russell W M S and Burch R L (1959) The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. Methuen: London.

Notifiable animal disease investigation dashboards

The notifiable animal disease investigation dashboards summarise the number of investigations APHA has performed for exotic notifiable animal diseases.

The main dashboard shows data on all completed investigations, while the species specific dashboards (cattle, sheep, goats and poultry) shows these investigations in more detail.

View the APHA notifiable animal disease investigation dashboards.

If you have an enquiry about the dashboard, email APHAExperimentStats@apha.gov.uk

Find out more about notifiable diseases in animals.