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Myths and facts

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Animal research doesn’t work and hasn’t made any contribution to medical progress.

The discovery of insulin in dogs in the 1920s by Banting and Best is a good example of the contribution of animal research to medical progress. Before the discovery of insulin, there was no effective treatment for the disease and people with diabetes usually died tragically young. Diabetic dogs have also benefited from insulin treatment.

Each decade since the discovery of insulin has seen the introduction of new kinds of treatments for many diseases. Each of these and many other advances were critically dependent on animal research.

Given continued research using animals, we can expect further advances in the treatment of diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cystic fibrosis and crippling joint disease. It is very difficult to see how we could make such medical advances without animal research.

Four independent reports have found that animal studies make an important contribution to scientific and medical advances.

Animals don’t need to be used in research because there are alternatives.

We cannot yet reproduce complex diseases in a cell culture, get a computer to cough, or examine a whole beating heart in a test-tube. By law, animals must not be used in a research project if viable non-animal techniques are available.

Most research is already carried out using these other methods. But we still need to use animals at some point. The living body is much more than just a collection of its parts; we need to understand how they interact. Humans can only be used in limited situations.

Scientists have strong ethical, economic and legal obligations to use animals in research only when necessary. Thus the number of research animals used annually in the UK has almost halved in the last 30 years. As science progresses, it may be possible to reduce further the numbers of animals used in some areas. In other areas, the numbers of animals may increase.

The guiding principles in animal research today are called the three Rs: Refinement, to make sure animals suffer as little as possible; Reduction, to minimise the number of animals used; Replacement, to replace animals with non-animal techniques wherever possible.

Many pointless, unnecessary animal experiments are carried out.

Unnecessary animal experiments are very unlikely in the UK for the following reasons:

• The strict controls on animal research, in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, do not allow animals to be used to obtain information that is obtainable by other means.

• Research using animals is very expensive because the animals are costly to buy or breed, to house, and to care for, and the work itself is slow and labour intensive.

• Funds for biomedical research are limited, so each research proposal is rigorously assessed by panels of experts. Trivial, irrelevant or repetitive work will not attract funding.

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