Animal Research Saves Human Lives
What has animal research ever done for us?
Take a group of thirty British children - a typical classroom size in the UK. One or two will be or become diabetic. Two or three will develop asthma. Many will need a blood transfusion at some point. Most will receive anaesthetics during their lifetime (around six million general anaesthetics are administered each year). All are likely to be prescribed antibiotics at some time (around 40 million prescriptions are issued per year). All will be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, meningitis C, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) and even a child whose parents refuse such vaccines will benefit from the immunity through the vaccination of other children.
Next time you go to the doctor, consider those numbers and spare a thought for the animals that made it possible for those thirty people to lead healthy lives. The history of scientific discoveries made possible by animal research is exemplary: insulin (dogs and rabbits), polio vaccine (monkeys), anaesthetics (rabbits), blood transfusion (monkeys, dogs), antibiotics to cure tuberculosis (guinea pigs), asthma treatment (frogs and guinea pigs), meningitis vaccine (mice), deep brain stimulation (monkeys), penicillin (mice); the list goes on.
You might notice that most of these developments are decades old. So what has animal research done for us recently?
Herceptin, originally developed in mice, has had a significant impact on the survival rates for breast cancers. As a mouse antibody (now humanised) it would not have come about without the use of animal research. Mice, far and away the most common animals used in scientific research, have also been used in conjunction with stem cell research to create a treatment for macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness). Research pioneered in mice has now been used successfully to treat humans.
Humans are compassionate beings and it is this very compassion which demands that we continue to do lifesaving animal research. Around two decades ago AIDS was a death sentence. Today, developments in Highly Active Anti-retroviral Treatments (HAART), created through the various animal models of HIV, mean sufferers can expect an ordinary life expectancy. It is compassion for our fellow human being that necessitates a continuation of animal research.
However, it's not just humans who benefit from animal testing; almost all human diseases have a similar or equivalent disease in another species. 90% of veterinary medicines used to treat animals are the same or very similar to those developed to treat human patients. Surgical procedures, such as the removal of tumours and other intrusive procedures, are used in humans as well as animals and tend to be developed and refined in animals. Recently, studies on wild squirrels have discovered a virus that may be responsible for the decline in red squirrel populations. Hopefully this may also lead to treatments being found.
Sadly, animal research is frequently misrepresented. Pictures of monkeys in terrible conditions circulate the internet. But they are often decades old and fail to address a few simple facts, namely that (1) rodents, fish, amphibians and birds account for approximately 98% of animals used in research; primates account for less than 0.1% (2) the UK's animal research regulations are the strictest in the world (3) animal research may only be carried out where there is no suitable alternative (4) animal research has contributed to nearly every medical breakthrough of the last century.
Scientists are not just guided by government regulations and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. Through the use of the 3Rs, British research facilities are leading the way in continued improvement in the conditions for animals in labs. Refinement (better conditions for animals and better training for those using them), Reduction (reducing the number of animals used) and Replacement (using non-animal methods wherever possible) are the cornerstones of good science, ensuring that the best research can be done with the minimum suffering for animals. All research in British labs must be approved by an ethics committee - which includes a veterinarian and usually a lay member of the public - to ensure that animals are only used where there is no other option.
Given the high standards of care in laboratories across the UK and the importance of animal research to the development of modern cures, it is essential that scientists are allowed to continue their research without harassment or intimidation from animal rights activists. Thankfully, opinion surveys illustrate the consistent support of over 80% of the British public for well-regulated medical research. Furthermore, 88% of doctors agreed that safety testing in animals must continue.