MORE than 55,000 animals have been used in experiments at universities in Glasgow in a year, according to new figures.

The details were revealed in a Freedom of Information request this month which showed the vast proportion were used at Glasgow University in medical testing and research.

The university stressed the animals - including 50,488 rodents, 3,272 fish and 763 birds - were used only when there was no other alternative.

They said they were used for research into human and animal diseases to"advance knowledge and treatment of areas including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, auto-immune and inflammatory diseases and neurological conditions."

Glasgow Caledonian University logged 679 animals used during 2014, saying they were used for medical research. They included 238 rats, 284 zebrafish and 157 mice.

The University of the West of Scotland said they used 104 animals - 54 fish and 50 mice.

The mice were used in medical research and the fish for non-medical.

The universities say there are strict animal welfare standards in place and the work is strictly regulated.

In a statement, Glasgow University said the research made "a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of a range of major 21st century metabolic and infectious diseases in humans and animals.

"The University of Glasgow only uses animals in research programmes of the highest quality and where there are no alternatives. The University is committed to the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement - it ensures the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined to maximise welfare."

But Cruelty Free International (CFI) - formerly known as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) - hit out at "a large increase" in the number of animal experiments taking place at Glasgow University.

Dr Katy Taylor, head of science, said: "We are disappointed to see another large increase in the number of animal experiments taking place at the University of Glasgow. A total of 54,811 animals were used by the university, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year when 44,579 were used. There was a shocking increase in the number of rabbits, rodents and fish.

"Just last month, we uncovered a sickening experiment carried out by researchers at the university's dental school, which involved removing a section of bone from the jaws of white rabbits and attempting to repair it with stem cells taken from their spines. One of the rabbits died before the end of the study while the rest were killed."

The university responded saying: "The rabbit is an accepted model for cranio-facial surgery. The rabbits involved in the bone regeneration study, published in 2013, were anaesthetised, did not show any signs of pain and their welfare was not comprised. All animals returned to normal eating within 2-4 days after surgery, except one which was euthanized for reasons unrelated to the study.

"The University of Glasgow believes animal research remains essential to the development of new medicines and therapies. Any research involving animals is not undertaken lightly, only proceeding if no viable alternative exists and is carried out under strict Home Office guidelines."

Some larger animals were used by the university, including 15 pigs, 139 sheep and eight cattle.

Glasgow Caledonian University said they took their ethical duties "very seriously."

She said: "We consistently try to find innovative, reliable and sustainable research alternatives where it is possible, including using human skin tissue and cells that can be used for multiple studies related to diabetes research.

"Animal scientific procedures are carried out in relation to the university's work in Health and Life Sciences, for example, zebrafish are used by GCU researchers who are working to develop the potential treatment for Leber's Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), the earliest and most severe form of inherited disorder that affects the retina and causes vision loss in babies."

A University of the West of Scotland spokesman said their research contributed to the treatment of arthritis as well as the effects on environmental change on fish populations.

PETA science policy advisor, Dr Julia Baines, said said: "Universities are responsible for nearly half of all experiments conducted on animals, but like all segments of the animal testing community, they are not forthcoming with information about the cruel and archaic experiments taking place behind closed doors.

"The future of science lies in cutting-edge non-animal methodologies such as organs-on-chips, 3D human skin cultures, micro-models of the brain and computer models that can accurately predict what happens in human beings. The University of Glasgow urgently needs to align itself with public opinion and 21st century scientific methodology if it doesn't want to short-change its students."

The figures come after CFI research showed Edinburgh University conducted scientific research on more animals than any other institution in the UK.

The figures, released in March, showed a quarter of animals used in experiments in 2013 were tested in the laboratories of six universities.

Between them, they conducted experiments on just over a million animals that year. Edinburgh University - the only Scottish one of the six - accounted for around a quarter, using 241,865 animals.

A spokesman for the University of Edinburgh said: "The University of Edinburgh uses animals in research programmes only when their use is justified on scientific, ethical and legal grounds, and when no alternatives are available.

Across Scotland, figures showed almost 620,000 animals were experimented on in a year..