Opinion Piece; Animals used in research
Statement 1; Animal testing aids researchers in finding drugs and treatments to improve health and medicine.
Statement 2; Animal testing helps to ensure the safety of drugs and many other substances humans use or are exposed to regularly
Statement 3; I am alone and in pain, and I am awaiting my next turn on the ‘table’ when I can do my bit for scientific advancement and medical research so that my human friends can devise new medicines to save them from the fate which shortly awaits me.
The opening two statements are published statements used to justify the use of animals in experimentation. Statement three are the words that, I feel safe to say, will NEVER be present within the minds of any single one of the 100+ million animals used in experimentation each year, yet we often use words similar to these to justify their use to ourselves.
Millions of animals—primates, dogs and cats, rats and mice, rabbits, pigs, horses, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and guinea pigs—are used each year in animal experimentation, many suffering unimaginable physical pain, deprivation and emotional distress due to the procedures they endure and the conditions in which they live within.
The use of animal models as stand-ins for humans can give rise to misleading results because of the intrinsic differences between humans and other species. Yet, despite these inherent limitations with the animal model and advances made in non-animal technologies, universities, pharmaceutical and diagnostic laboratories, as well as military, and agricultural facilities continue to use animals as the primary tool for experimentation purposes.
Advocates of animal use in research will point to legislative and practical steps being taken to improve the welfare of animals. For example, news announced in 2016 by the Chinese Association for Laboratory Animal Sciences, that China is adopting stricter animal welfare standards for animals raised in laboratories and used in research and experimentation. These are a cautiously welcome step which has the potential, if implemented and enforced, to improve the welfare of over 20 million animals currently used in research each year in China.
Improving welfare for such a vast number of animals through standardising an industry which has up until now operated with varying degrees of control and oversight which has left the animals often at the mercy of the researchers with little or no administrative body to ensure that animal suffering is minimised. When we look at this news and similar steps made by other regions using large numbers of animals in experimentation, with our ‘glass half full’ it is a progressive step towards reducing animal suffering and providing animals used in research with conditions which improve their individual welfare.
But it is internationally recognised that providing animals with conditions which provide them with good welfare’ requires animals to have positive experiences throughout their lives. The very nature of the use of animals as research tools in many cases will negate the possibility of providing these animals with an environment which induces positive welfare states, and therefore many millions of animals are likely to continue to experience suffering to varying degrees, despite these welfare improvements.
Our reliance on animal models may also in fact be counterproductive; legislative frameworks supported by research institutions encouraging researchers to continue to use animals in research are in doing so neglecting much needed investment into the available and expanding non-animal alternatives market which offers such vast potential for medical advancements.
For the animals themselves, the only real progress will come from their complete replacement as research tools and the adoption of these non-animal alternative testing models, and it is hugely frustrating that in amongst the ‘welfare improvements’ we do not see news celebrating government policies designed to drive researchers into the development of non-animal testing methods and legislation for medicinal products which promote the use of non-animal alternatives.
Alternatives to animal tests are often cheaper, quicker and more effective
Replacing animal tests does not mean putting human patients at risk. It also does not mean halting medical progress. Instead, replacing animal testing will improve the quality as well as the humaneness of our science.
Thankfully, the development of alternative methods is growing. Due to innovations in science, animal tests are being replaced in areas such as toxicity testing, neuroscience and drug development. But much more needs to be done.
The reasons why animal testing persists are often not scientific. Instead it can be due to conservatism within the scientific establishment – it is easier and more comfortable to simply do what has always been done. Test results on animals can be easily compared to earlier tests on animals to give confidence to scientists. Regulators can adopt a ‘tick box’ approach, divorced from the needs of the real world.
Once new alternatives have been developed, there are also massive bureaucratic hurdles to implementing and enforcing their use. One of the most important jobs the Cruelty Free International science team does is encourage regulators to accept and promote alternative methods to animal testing.
Since 1970, we have awarded 250 grants to projects that include research into cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, diabetes, kidney, heart and liver disease, to name only a few.
EACH PROJECT WE FUND IS A STEP ALONG THE ROAD TO COMPLETELY REPLACING ANIMALS IN MEDICAL RESEARCH.
Some highlights of our work include:
In 2012, we developed a programme of annual Summer Studentship grants to fund early career scientists. This has helped to embed the importance of animal free research with them at the start of their research careers.
We hosted our first Animal Replacement Science Conference in 2014. These valuable events bring together scientists from different fields to share their work on replacing animals in medical research.
In 2016, we launched our Animal Replacement Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University of London. The focus of the centre will be on vital animal free research into skin, breast and prostate cancers.
We have funded innovative research into cardiovascular treatments using Thiel embalmed human cadavers to replace animal use.
We funded research that created an entirely new 3D model of human breast cancer – the first of its kind. This work will help replace mice with implanted tumours.
We funded pioneering research using a MEG brain scanner, which allows safe human brain imaging and replaces invasive experiments on monkeys.
Our funding helped in the development of computer models to predict how medicines behave in human patients, helping to replace tests in rabbits, rodents and dogs.
We funded research on cultures of human cells that demonstrated how new drugs are delivered in patients.
Piece written by Dave Neale, Animal Welfare Director at AfA's member organisation, Animals Asia