Why animal research?
Animal research plays a small but crucial part in the development and safety testing of the many medicines we take for granted everyday. Older drugs, such as Penicillin (mice), Insulin (dogs) and the Polio Vaccine (monkeys) all relied on animal research and have gone on to save millions of lives. More recently the technique of Deep Brain Stimulation (monkeys) to alleviate the tremors and pains or Parkinson's patients is helping thousands of sufferers around the world. Looking to the future, improved animal models of genetically inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease offer hope to millions of people.
Recently, work on the link between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer, as well as the discovery of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have brought three scientists Nobel Prizes. Although their work did not directly involve the use of animals, work on vaccines and treatments for both diseases have relied heavily on animal research. Recently two new HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, were brought to the market after an extensive development stage in dogs, rabbits and cows.
With over 70% of Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine going to those who have used animals in their research, it is little wonder that scientists believe that such methods are still crucial in helping treat and cure modern diseases. Medicines are not the only end product of such research, many surgical techniques such as heart and kidney transplants, and advanced diagnosis methods like MRI and CT scanning, have all been developed with the help of animals.
You might wonder how we can learn anything about ourselves from a mouse, and yet we share over 95% of our DNA with these rodents. Mice have the same organs (heart, lungs, etc.), performing the same functions in more or less the same way. Mice suffer from many of the same or equivalent pathologies, and the opportunities brought about by genetically modified (GM) mice allow us to make them even more like us. Recently transgenic mice were given the common cold, something previously only possible in higher animals such as primates, giving hope for new treatments to help rhinoviruses which can trigger asthma attacks, and acute attacks of COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), both of which kill many people in the UK and Ireland.
Animal Research is strictly regulated in the US, with new projects having to pass Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) to ensure that the potential benefit to humans outweighs the cost to the animals involved. Behind the high welfare standards are the 3Rs; Replacement of animal methods with alternatives wherever possible, Reducing the number of animals used, and Refining our care to animals by ensuring suitable enrichment activities and training welfare staff to the highest standard.
Overall animal research is crucial to medical progress. It is highly regulated to ensure animal welfare is a top priority. It is crucial to the development of cutting edge medicines to fight Cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and other life threatening or debilitating diseases. Finally, it is currently irreplaceable, although we may find replacements for individual bits of research, methods such as computer modeling and in vitro testing are not so much replacement methods as they are complementary ones, being used alongside the animal research.