DURHAM University has defended its treatment of animals used in scientific experiments, in the face of fierce criticism from an anti-vivisection campaign.

The Anti-Vivisection Coalition (AVC) claims animals have died, been seriously injured and mistreated in labs at the North’s leading university.

The campaign says documents obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act reveal rabbits have suffered lacerations, swellings, abscesses, mastitis and obesity, fish have suffered fungal infections and died and vets have expressed concerns over the conditions of rats following surgery.

The AVC says 8,516 animals were used in tests in Durham during 2013, an increase of more than 700 per cent on the year before, and rats have been made to swim in water mazes, had electrodes implanted into their skulls and chemicals injected into their brains.

The campaign is now calling on the university to end vivisection. Sophie Kennerley, the AVC’s director of communications, said: “It is unacceptable that the number of animals used in experiments at Durham University has increased by over 700 per cent since 2012.

“Animals at the institution are mistreated, with veterinary records showing sustained injuries and deaths.

“Such ill treatment of animals does not reflect a civilised society where other species merit respect.

“AVC call on Durham University to commit to ending animal experiments.”

Professor Chris Higgins, the university’s vice-chancellor, said its use of animals in research work is strictly regulated and it strives for the very highest standards of care and wellbeing for all animals.

“Studying animals in the laboratory can help us understand more about the physical interactions between different parts of the body, gain knowledge which can be applied to the study of human physiology, and ultimately aid discovery and development of medical treatments for conditions such as cancer and diabetes.

“Many of the world’s major medical breakthroughs have been thanks to many years of scientific work carried out with animals which share many genes and diseases with humans.

“Animal testing is usually the only option for testing treatments are safe before progressing to clinical trials in humans,” he added.

Durham has Home Office licenses to carry out lab work on mice, rats, rabbits, fish and frogs.

Last year, Newcastle University stopped controversial tests on baboons after criticism from the British Union Against Vivisection and celebrities Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley and Chris Packham.