ABOUT THE RESEARCH
Number of Animals Used
The number of procedures and experiments involving animals in 2006 for the United Kingdom was exactly 3,012,032. The number of animals used is slightly less than this because some experiments used a particular animal more than once.
In the UK in 2006, the a wide variety of institutions used animal research. The percentages of each are as follows: universities (42 %); commercial organizations (35 %); non-profit organizations (3 %); government departments (5 %); other public bodies (15 %).
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 has also been banned since 1986. The vast 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 percentages for animals used in the UK in 2006 were:
14% Fish, amphibians and reptiles
3.7% Birds (including many fertilised hen's eggs)
1.9% Sheep, cows, pigs and other large mammals
1.2% Other rodents
0.7% Small mammals other than rodents, mostly rabbits and ferrets
0.27% Dogs and cats. Specially bred for research.
0.14% Monkeys, such as marmosets and macaques.
A full breakdown of the numbers can be found from the Home Office Official Statistics.
Types of Animal Research
Animal research falls under three
The nature of scientific discovery is such that not all experiments can be directed towards a directly-applicable goal, such as a cure for malaria. Instead, some research must develop our understanding of how bodies work, such as how chemicals are metabolised, how diseases and conditions affect organisms, how the brain works, etc. Experimentation like this is called 'pure' research because it is exploratory. The knowledge gained can then often be used in applied research. For example, the circulatory system was first understood via vivisection, penicillin was discovered accidentally, while Professor Tipu Aziz, a member of our committee, found that his work on understanding how monkeys' brains functions was applicable in developing a machine that conquers many of the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's Disease. Many anti-vivisectionists claim that this sort of experimentation is needless and cruel, but in fact it provides the foundations of knowledge upon which all medical advances ultimately rest, and further development would be impossible without them.
2. Applied research
This research aims at outcomes with direct applicability, such as cures for cancer, malaria, AIDS, Parkinsons, and many other afflictions.
3. Toxicology research
This research uses animals to test substances for toxic effects. For instance, drugs will be tested on animals before they are tested on human beings. This process is a moral and legal imperative: giving untested drugs to humans could have potentially disastrous effects. Although the recent trials of TGN1412 in humans which had severely adverse effects on the volunteers demonstrates that this stage of testing is never foolproof, disasters like this would occur extremely frequently were drugs not first tried out on animals. Furthermore the investigation of what happened in the case of TGN1412 revealed
that neither the monkey nor standard in vitro testing predicted the
outcome of the trail. This has lead to a greater urgency in the
development of new testing
procedures, involving for example in vitro and transgenic animal
technologies, for safety testing of biological drugs such as TGN1412
that are designed to specifically target human proteins.
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' (the mapping of human DNA 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.
Anti-vivisectionists often bring up single examples to 'prove' that all animal testing is ineffective, e.g., penicillin kills guinea pigs but benefits humans. Scientists have always realised that some animals are better models for human beings in some areas than others, which is why, for instance, penicillin was developed using mice, and not guinea pigs. The latest technological revolutions, such as the mapping of the genome, will simply help scientists to make even better choices in future.
The MRC states that approximately
30% of their research uses animals and the remainder of studies conducted
are in other models (see 'alternatives', above).