More than 25,000 animals including fish have died during research and teaching at the University of Otago since 2009, and the figures are expected to increase significantly when statistics are collated for 2011.

About 53,334 animals were used for research and teaching purposes in 2009 and 2010, figures released by the university show.

Deputy vice-chancellor Professor Richard Blaikie said no cats were used. Dogs were used for behavioural studies when the pets were volunteered by their owners to assist researchers.

"Knowledge gained from animal-based studies helps scientists better understand how the body works," he said. "For example, how cancer cells develop, how to improve vaccines, and possible treatments for dementia and Parkinson's disease, the causes of human infertility and so on."

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The development of new biomaterials, potentially suitable for prosthetic implants, was also another benefit and many of the university's best research programmes using animals were highlighted in the institution's annual publications, he said.

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 legislates for the use of animals in research, teaching and testing, but the university does not use animals for testing.

Statistical information about which academic divisions at Otago were using animals could not be supplied to media because individual researchers could be identified, Professor Blaikie said.

The research animals come from a variety of sources.

Rodents and frogs are bred at the university, while sheep and pigs are bought from local suppliers. Possums, birds, and reptiles were "generally involved" in wildlife field studies and often in conjunction with the Department of Conservation, Professor Blaikiesaid.

All research at the university which involved animals was carried out under "very strict" ethical guidelines.

- OTAGO DAILY TIMES