LONDON Oxford University's controversial new research laboratory, the target of a fierce campaign by animal rights activists, has taken in its first mice for testing, it announced on Tuesday.
The multi-million pound Biomedical Sciences Building, which has faced years of protests and on occasion more extreme action, said the transfer of the mice represented the start of the rehousing of research animals into the centre.
"Where animals are needed in research, we are committed to the highest standards of care. That is why we have built this new facility," said the university's Vice-Chancellor, Dr John Hood.
"The fact that we have completed it in difficult circumstances reflects the depth of our commitment both to life-saving research and to animal care."
Construction began in 2003 but was suspended in July 2004 for 16 months when the building contractor pulled out in the face of a persistent campaign by animal rights group SPEAK, which argues animal testing is unnecessary and unreliable.
Oxford says some animal rights extremists have carried out criminal acts, such as vandalism, and had even threatened violence against anyone involved with the university.
In 2006, officials went to the High Court for an injunction to extend an exclusion zone round the building to keep protesters away.
The university said the centre would use animals for medical and not pharmaceutical purposes, with work on tackling diseases such as cancer, diabetes, HIV, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Ninety-eight percent of the animals will be rodents and less than 0.5 percent will be primates, whose use in testing has often enflamed passions.
In 2004, Cambridge University announced it was giving up plans for a 32 million pound primate research centre over fears it would not be safe from militants.
"Animals are only used in our research where no other technique is available, and the university is absolutely committed to replacing animal use wherever possible," said Professor Alastair Buchan, Head of the Medical Sciences Division.
"Some animal use is still essential for medical progress. The new building will help us deliver on our commitment to animal care while pursuing life-saving medical advances."
(Reporting by Michael Holden)