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There is ample evidence to show that animal research has been vital for
medical advances in the past. For example, it has helped provide antibiotics and
vaccines, insulin for diabetes, treatments for leukemia, local and general
anesthetics, and has made possible advances in medical technology such as blood
transfusion, kidney dialysis, and the heart lung machine.
There are two main reasons as to why animal research needs to continue.
First, despite great advances in science and technology, animals still cannot be
replaced completely by non-animal methods. Secondly, despite great advances in
medicine, there are still all too many serious conditions that we cannot cure or
treat adequately. Animal research is indispensable, but it is important to
realize that it provides just part of the picture. Whenever possible, the
picture is also built up using non-animal methods such as computer modeling,
cell culture, and studies of patients and populations.
Animal research is used in several different areas of biomedical research and
product safety testing. Majority of animal testing is used for developing new
treatments for diseases, or ways of preventing diseases, and fundamental
biological and medical research. A small percentage of the animals are bred for
medical research, while the smallest amounts are used for developing new methods
for diagnosis and safety testing. The overall trend in animal experiments is
downward due to higher standards of animal welfare, scientific advances, and
From a scientific perspective, there are several reasons as to why working
with animals in research is necessary. First, scientists need to test medical
treatments for efficacy and test new drugs for safety or toxicity before
beginning human testing. For instance, small animals, usually rats, are used to
determine the possible side-effects of new drugs including infertility,
miscarriage, birth defects, liver damage and cancer-causing potential. After
such animal tests have proven the safety of new drugs, patients asked to
participate in further studies can be assured that they may fare better, and
will do no worse than if they were given standard treatment or no treatment.
Also, new surgical techniques first must be carefully developed and tested in
living, breathing, whole organ systems with pulmonary and circulatory systems
much like ours. Computer models, cell cultures, or artificial substances cannot
simulate flesh, muscle, blood, bones or organs working together in a living
system. Furthermore, the doctors who perform today's delicate cardiac, ear, eye,
pulmonary and brain surgeries must develop the necessary skills before patient's
lives can be entrusted to their care. Finally, it is impossible to explore,
explain, or predict the course of many diseases or the effects of many
treatments without observing and testing the entire living system. Humans are
complex living systems with interrelated nervous systems, blood and brain
chemistry, gland and organ secretions, and immunological responses. Cell and
tissues cultures, often suggested as alternatives to using animals have been
used for many years, but these are only isolated tests and isolated tests will
yield only isolated results, which may bear little or no relation to a whole
living system. Scientists do not yet know enough about living systems or
diseases, nor does the technology exist, to replicate one on a computer. Any
future true computer model will have to be based on the information gained from
today's animal studies.
The history of the benefits of animal research is marked by dramatic
breakthroughs. Without animal research, doctors would have no chemotherapy to
save the 70% of children who now survive acute lymphocytic leukemia. Also,
without animal research, 60 million Americans would risk death from heart
attack, stoke or kidney failure from lack of medication to control their high
blood pressure, and polio would kill or cripple thousands of unvaccinated
children and adults this year (Statistics from Scientific Procedures on Living
Animals, 1997). Thus from a scientific perspective, working with animals in
research is vital to continued medical progress.
Alternatives to Animal Research
The Three R's
This term refers to the modification of any procedures done
to an animal in a laboratory from the time it is born until it is dead. These
modifications should minimize any pain or distress that would otherwise be
suffered by the animal, and "enhance its well-being." The issue of animal
welfare is not only important from and ethical standpoint, it is also a matter
of good science.
This simply means doing anything that will reduce the number
of animals being used in research. This approach is concerned with using less
animals but obtaining the same amount of information. Some strategies include
using more of every animal and avoiding redundant experiments.
"Any experimental system which does not entail the use of a
whole, living animal is considered to be a replacement alternative." These
systems include: information based research, computer- based systems, physico-chemical techniques, utilizing lower organisms and embryos, human studies, and
cell tissue and organ culture.
Other Non- Animal Methods
Epidemiology is the study of the distribution
and determinants of disease in defined populations. Undoubtedly, if you can
understand disease mechanisms and their functions in a population, you can
remove the factors which propagate it.
Closely monitoring human patients is the single most
useful tool available to researchers. Observation combined with advanced,
modern, non- invasive techniques have revolutionized clinical investigation.
Autopsies and Biopsies
Autopsies are not performed as often as they once
were. Autopsies used to be the most important tool for the advancement of
medical knowledge. These are major tools which are often overlooked.
Post- Marketing Surveillance
Computer technology has revolutionized the
capabilities of database information. It is now easier to effectively use
marketing information to accurately document harmful and beneficial side effects
Government Involvement in Animal Research
The Animal Welfare Act standardizes the care and treatment
of laboratory animals (except for rats and mice bred specifically for research
purposes.) Facilities wishing to conduct animal research must register with the
United States Department of Agriculture. The Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service will conduct unannounced inspections of any laboratory. The Animal
Welfare Act also requires that painkillers be used in any experiments that will
potentially cause physical pain to the animal.
The AWA also requires that each institution create an Institutional Animal
Care and Use Committee. This committee is responsible for making sure that the
institution is complying with federal law.
Anyone who wishes to receive funding from the U.S.
Public Health Service must adhere to strict regulations. They must prove that
they have an animal care committee (usually the same as the IACUC). They must
also file annual Animal Welfare Assurances with the National Institutes of
Health. This includes: documentation of institutional commitment, description of
the animal care and use program, and implementation procedures.
"Publish or Perish"
Even though you must publish to survive in the research world, there are very
few if any useless experiments. It is so difficult to get funding for animal
research that only the best projects are even considered.
These groups all have web pages that can be easily reached for more
information on medical experimentation on animals and animal rights in general:
AAVS (American Anti-Vivisection Society)
ALF (Animal Liberation Front)
CAAT (Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing)
FOA (Friends of Animals)
FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments)
IDA (In Defense of Animals)
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) www.peta-online.org
UPC (United Poultry Concerns)
A good resource site is the Animal Rights Resource Site
See the book Personal Care for People Who Care for more information on how to
find alternatives for animal-tested products.
23 April 1998
As biomedical research progresses at an exponential rate, it does so at the
cost of millions of animals each year. While this statement may seem dismal for
those of us who grew up idolizing our household pets or Disney characters such
as Mickey Mouse, to those of us who work in and around medicine, this statement
provides an optimistic foundation so that the medical dilemmas of today will
soon be the common cures of tomorrow.
While pursuing a Biology degree at the University of Kentucky, I have been
fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work in the department of
Anatomy and Neurobiology at the university's medical center as a research
assistant. This experience has taught me first hand not only the importance of
biomedical research, but also the imperative enforcement of the rules and
regulations regarding animal care. My position has also granted me direct access
to laboratory animals, their facilities, as well as contact with the supervisors
of the Division of Laboratory Research at the University of Kentucky.
After discussing specific animal protocols and the rules and regulations
governing them with both my mentor, John D. Porter, PhD., and the head
veterinarian of the Division of Laboratory Animal Research , Kenneth Dickey,
DVM., I was baffled by the numerous organizations and publications the
biomedical research population is subjected too, the most prominent of these
organizations being the USDA, NIH, IACUC, and AAALAC. The National Institute of
Health (NIH) publishes what most biomedical researchers consider the "Bible" for
animal care. Otherwise known by its title, Guide for the Care and Use of
Laboratory Animals, this publication is so specific that it actually
provides the recommended floor area(in.2) and height (in.) for all
laboratory animals based on their weight( g). Other guidelines such as decibel
level, ventilation, and temperature are also just as tightly regulated and
outlined in this book. Some may argue that scientists may avoid some, if not
many, of these restrictions in the interests of time. On the contrary, the
majority of scientists have very limited money in which to perform their
research, so it is without question that the best interests of their research is
to conform to every single laboratory regulation because a surprise visit from
any of the aforementioned organizations can cost them plenty.
While one would think that there are defined procedures that stipulate which
killing procedures are "illegal" or "inhumane," the fact is, no such
restrictions exist. In other words, as long as the proposed killing procedure is
justified by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee who believe that the
procedure is necessary for the proposed research, the protocol may continue. The
most common forms of death for laboratory animals are all euthanasia tactics.
These include CO2 asphyxiation, administration of barbiturates, and
inhalation of non-explosive anesthetics. There are, however, rare exceptions
where animal decapitation occurs without the aid of any sedation of pain killing
chemicals, but those procedures are very hard to get approved and the research
must provide the scientific community with very pertinent information.
In the course researching this topic, as well as working in a laboratory on a
daily basis, the initial question: "Is too much needless experimentation done on
animals in medical research?" can be answered in one simple reply. "No." Animal
research is a very controlled profession both for the integrity of the research
that is being performed as well as for the protection of the animals that are
being used. Due to the sensitivity surrounding animal testing, the lack of
funding is a huge factor for most medical researchers. For this very reason, the
animals not only receive very good care, but if two doctors are doing research
on the same disease and are studying how it effects different parts of the body,
they will each take a turn at dissecting the portion of the animal that pertains
to their study.
Animal testing is imperative to the health and longevity of both man and
animal. Without animal testing viruses such as polio would cripple thousands of
people a year, diabetics would be dead, and our favorite household pets would
have no comfort in going to the vet. Animal activists can stand high on their
soapboxes and condemn the practices of animal testing, but in actuality, I
wonder how many of them actually skipped their polio vaccinations as a child.
I. Number of Animals and Employees
A. Roughly 6-8 thousand animals are kept on campus for research purposes(~100
of these are monkeys)
B. These animals are kept in four main areas on campus (Biological Sciences
Building, Kastle Hall, Agriculture Building, and the Medical Center)
C. 4 veterinarians & 35 general care employees care for these animals
II. Restrictions and Requirements for Proper Animal Care
A. Regulations provided by numerous organizations (USDA, IACUC, AAALAC are
among the most prominent)
B. The care givers, vets, as well as the doctors performing the research are
held liable for any violations of the regulations established by the
C. These regulations include everything from normal sanitation procedures to
noise decibel levels
III. Protocols and Killing Procedures
A. There are no procedures that are set in stone as "illegal" or "inhumane"
B. Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee
1) Group members
C. Most Common Method of Death
1) Euthanasia (which includes CO2, barbiturates [sedatives], and
non-explosive inhalant anesthetics)
IV. The Controversy?
A. The pain controversy
B. Poor care controversy
C. Excess testing controversy
V. If the animal rights people had won in the beginning . . .
A. What would have happened if animal testing had never been practiced?
B. How would this effect animals?