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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Facts about Animal Research

Here are some of the facts I researched about animal research. (They are also posted up on the PRO-Test website.)


Without animal research, medicine as we know it today wouldn’t exist. Animal research has enabled us to find treatments for cancer, antibiotics for infections, vaccines to prevent some of the most deadly and debilitating viruses and surgery for injuries, illnesses and deformities.

According to the US based, Foundation for Biomedical Research: “Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century - for both human and veterinary health. From antibiotics to blood transfusions, from dialysis to organ transplantation, from vaccinations to chemotherapy, bypass surgery and joint replacement, practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, treatment, cure and control of disease, pain and suffering is based on knowledge attained through research with lab animals.”[1]

But animal research hasn’t benefited humans alone. Animals also have improved healthcare and a longer lifespan. Farm animals, household pets, wild species and endangered species are all benefiting from the research conducted through animals. There are vaccines for rabies, distemper, tetanus, parvo virus and numerous other illnesses in cats, dogs and countless other domesticated animals. Cats now have a treatment for Feline Leukemia. It’s obvious that animal research benefits all living species and that we are all able to live longer, healthier, happier lives because of it.

In fact, seven out of the ten most recent Nobel Prizes in medicine, were based on animal research. Here’s a link citing a list of 71 of the Nobel Prizes won in the last 103 years using animal models, including what animal they used.

Examples of the Benefits from Animal Research and the Animals Involved:

Smallpox (cow) has now been eradicated from earth, Polio has been eradicated from North America and people in countries all over the world are being successfully treated (mouse and monkey). Insulin is now able to help control diabetes (dog, fish). There are vaccines for tetanus (horse), rubella (monkey), anthrax (sheep), and rabies (dog, rabbit). A short list, far from comprehensive, of some of the achievements made possible by medical research and the animal used to develop it[2]:

An understanding of the Malaria lifecycle (pigeon), tuberculosis (cow, sheep), Typhus (guinea pig, rat, mouse), and the function of neurons (cat, dog).
The discovery of anticoagulants (cat), penicillin (mouse), open heart surgery and cardiac pacemakers (dog), lithium (rat, guinea pig), treatment for leprosy (armadillo), organ transplantations (dog, sheep, cow, pig), laproscopic surgical techniques (pig), and a drug for AIDS treatment (monkey)

Number of Animals Used
The number of procedures and experiments involving animals in 2004 for the United Kingdom was exactly 2,854,944. The number of animals used is slightly less than this because some experiments used a particular animal more than once.[3]

In the UK in 2004, the a wide variety of institutions used animal research. The percentages of each are as follows: universities (42.1 %); commercial organizations (33.3 %); non-profit organizations (4.9 %); government departments (2.4 %); National Health Service hospitals (0.9 %); public health laboratories (0.6 %); other public bodies (15.8 %).[4]

The Types of Animals Used
The animals used for research in the United Kingdom must be specially bred by registered license holders. Research is not performed on stray animals or unwanted pets. This is strictly illegal. The use of chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas is also banned. The majority of research is conducted on rodents, with a smaller percentage using fish, reptiles, and birds. A very small percentage is conducted in larger mammals. The exact percentages for animals used in the UK in 2004 were[5]:

84% Rats, mice and other rodents. All specially bred laboratory species
12% Fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds (including many fertilised hen's eggs)
1% Small mammals other than rodents, mostly rabbits and ferrets
2.6% Sheep, cows, pigs and other large mammals
0.3% Dogs and cats
. Specially bred for research. No strays or unwanted pets can be used
0.15% Monkeys, such as marmosets and macaques. Chimpanzees, orang-utans and gorillas have not been used in this country for over 20 years and their use is now banned.


One of the most common questions asked is why scientists don’t use alternatives to animals.

Living organisms are incredibly complex and scientists still only understand a very small fraction of the structures, chemicals, interactions and metabolic pathways in humans and animals. The only way for scientists to learn more about them is through organisms that possess these traits. That’s why animal research is so important for the future of medicine and the ability to treat and cure diseases.

What few people realize is that multiple tests involving cells, DNA, proteins, and in-vitro techniques are used in the initial stages of biomedical research. It’s only when a point is reached where no experimental model can be substituted for a living organism.

When working to learn new information in science, the process starts at the smallest level possible. This is often work done with DNA from cell lines or the proteins that cause disease. As scientists and researchers learn more about their topic, the level of complexity increases in the models they study. They may move on to bacterial cells, then mammalian (animal and human) cells, then into entire organs and eventually into animals. We don’t currently have the technology to make computer programs or other methods of replicating the intricate and highly sensitive models that an entire living animal provides us with.

So asking why alternatives aren’t used is a misleading question. The experiments used that aren’t performed in animals are complementary to the experiments performed in animals and help researchers understand the big picture of a disease or system.

If there are any methods that can be used before an animal to learn new information, British law dictates they must be used.

Types of Animal Research

Animal research falls under three broad categories[6]:
1. Pure research
2. Applied research
3. Toxicology research

Medical Research Council

The Medical Research Council was established in 1913 in order to study diseases and illnesses and look for ways of treating or curing them.

As they explain in their informational booklet, they study diseases through multiple models to best understand the mechanisms involved in the health aspects they research, using humans, cell cultures and animals.

Thanks to the recent genomic revolution, sequencing of the human genome and many animal genomes, they now have a much greater understanding of which particular species share similar or different aspects of the human body, allowing animal research to become much more specific and targeted. It has enabled scientists to make educated decisions on which animals will serve as excellent models of varying diseases.

The MRC states that approximately 30% of their research uses animals and the remainder of studies conducted are in other models, like those listed above.[7]

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

If animal research prevents toxicity effects in humans from new drugs, what happened with thalidomide?

One of the major arguments against testing drugs on animals is the example of the drug thalidomide, known to chemists as (±)-N-(2,6-Dioxo-3-piperidyl)phthalimide, that caused birth defects. Thalidomide was introduced in 1956 and marketed as a sedative. Within several years, its use had spread around the world and women began taking it to help combat the nausea associated with pregnancy. In 1961, several physicians linked thalidomide with birth defects observed in their patients currently taking it. Almost immediately after, physicians worldwide began confirming these results. Soon after the discovery of the teratogenic effects became known, it was taken off the market.

Thalidomide did initially pass safety tests in animals because the proper tests were not performed, namely testing thalidomide in pregnant animals. If a through battery of tests had been performed in animals, the teratogenic effects would have been caught. Those opposing animal research though, cite Thalidomide as the perfect example to show why animals cannot be used to replace humans. They claim that Thalidomide did not cause birth defects in animals, only humans, which is completely inaccurate. Once the drug was pulled off the market, additional tests in animals were done, and it was found that mice, rats, hamsters, marmosets and baboons all suffered similar effects as observed in humans. (See original literature below)

Another note is that thalidomide was never approved in the USA because the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), felt there was too little data to prove its safety, and wanted additional tests.

Part of the reason less animal tests were performed is because of lax regulations and a more limited knowledge of medical science. What wasn’t realized at the time, was that if a pregnant women suffered no side effects, neither would the fetus. This was also believed to be the same with animals. Medical research has now shown this to be false, as most medications of any kind need to be avoided during pregnancy unless absolutely necessary.

Ultimately, the sales of thalidomide with insufficient pharmacokinetic data lead to the tragedy of an estimated 15,000 fetuses suffering birth defects. The ones who suffered from this situation were not the animals, but thousands of women who lost unborn children. Those children who did survive suffered from massive disfiguring deformities.

Thalidomide only serves to highlight the inadequacy of the testing process at the time, not the inadequacies of animal testing. This misfortune could have been prevented had we conducted through animal tests, including pregnancy studies. A few more animals and countless human lives would have been saved.

Fortunately, scientists and the medical community have learned from past mistakes. Laws and regulations have been revised and made much stricter. The tests conducted today before a drug is made available to the public finds teratogenic effects as well as numerous others. Time and time again, animal testing has proven its record as serving as an excellent indicator for how a drug will react in the human body.

Some of the original journal articleson the research of Thalidomide:

1.Blake DA, Gordon GB, Spielberg SP. The role of metabolic activation in thalidomide teratogenesis. Teratology 1982;25(2):28A-29A.).
2.DiPaolo JA (1963). Congenital malformation in strain A mice: its experimental production by thalidomide. JAMA vol.183: 139-141
3.Homburger F, Chaube S, Eppenberger M, Bogdonoff PD and Nixon CW (1965). Susceptibility of certain inbred strains of hamsters to teratogenic effects of thalidomide. Toxicol Appl Pharmaco vol.: 686-69
4.Hamilton WJ & Poswillo DE (1972). Limb reduction anomalies induced in the marmoset by thalidomide. J Anat vol.11:505-50
5.Hendrick AG, Axelrod LR & Clayborn LD (1966). Thalidomide syndrome in baboons Natur vol. 210: 958-95
6.King CTG &; Kendrick FJ (1962). Teratogenic effects of thalidomide in the Sprague Dawley rat. The Lancet: ii: 1116
7.Rajkumar, SV (2004). Thalidomide: Tragic Past and Promising Future Mayo Clin Proc. 79(7).

Animals are different from humans, so how can they accurately represent humans?

Animal models are not perfect representations of humans and scientists are well aware of this. BUT, they do serve as excellent substitutes (mostly using mice, rats and other small rodents) for humans.

As the genomic revolution has come around and the genomes of both humans and animals have been sequenced, we have realized that there are much more similarities between humans and animals than there are differences. It has also enabled us to identify where humans and particular animals are identical, as some animals serve as accurate representatives of a human’s anatomy, while others may share identical biochemical pathways. Genomic knowledge has made it so that animal research can be much more specifically targeted and accurate when representing a human, thus correctly predicting a how a human will react.

For example, mice are one of the most commonly used vertebrate species in animal research. This is because they small, easy to care for and for animal researchers to handle and work with and importantly, they reproduce much faster than many larger animals, as they can produce up to 100 babies in a year. This is an important trait when researchers are studying heritable diseases or compounds that could cause birth defects (see question number 1 on thalidomide). Mice are actually considered the best model of inherited human diseases. This is because they share 99% of all the genes with humans! Their genomes are also easy to manipulate to replicate the human form making them even more similar to humans[8].

What about cosmetic testing? Where does PRO-Test stand on cosmetic testing?

Cosmetic testing is banned in the United Kingdom. It is also banned in the Netherlands and Belgium, and the European Union has passed legislation that outlaws animal testing in the year 2009. By 2014, products still being tested on animals in other countries will also be banned in the EU[9].

Seeing as cosmetic testing is outlawed, PRO-Test does not need to take a stance on cosmetic testing. It is a non-issue. We also feel that it is currently irrelevant to our main goals as we are trying to promote research in animals to further medicine, health and science.

posted by Kristina Cook at 4:21 PM  

About the author

Kristina Cook Name: Kristina Cook

Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

My name is Kristina Cook and I am a first year DPhil (PhD) student in a mix of Chemistry/Biochemistry and Pharmacology at Oxford University. I am 23 years old. I just moved to Oxford from Washington DC, where I lived for two months as part of the graduate program I am in. Before this I had lived in San Diego, California for five years where I went to San Diego State University for my undergraduate education. In those five years I had the opportunity to further my science education by working for a wonderful small biotech/pharmaceutical company for three years, in the in-vitro pharmacology department. I also worked in an academic lab in synthetic chemistry, for two years. I am now out in Oxford, researching cancer angiogenesis, specifically some of the proteins involved, and looking for potential new ways of treating cancer.

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