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Emma Isle looks at the value of animal testing and explains the process to get animal testing research approved. 

In a world where science is advancing at an incredible pace, with new discoveries being made all the time, it is a reasonable question to ask, why is animal testing still necessary?

The use of animals as test subjects has always been a controversial topic, and is likely to continue to be so long into the future. Animal rights groups such as PETA argue strongly that such experiments are inhumane and often unnecessary and irrelevant to humans when compared with non-animal tests.

Related article: Campus without Cruelty: vigil for animal testing victims

While they are correct that animal testing still has a problem of transferability to human subjects, due to the action of the Animals Scientific Procedures Act (ASPA) all tests using animals must convince a panel of experts and non-experts alike that the experiment that they are about to undertake is both necessary, and all options other than testing on animals have been thought of and dismissed as they would not work before they are granted a license to undertake such research.

This principle, known as the three R’s (reduction, refinement and replacement of animals), is a key part of Bristol Universities policy on the use of animals, aimed at ensuring that only the most necessary of animal tests are still undertaken.

Currently there is no suitable alternative for testing on animals

The University states that “Until satisfactory alternatives have been developed, the process of discovery, enquiry and teaching require procedures which involve studies in animals”. And that is the crux of the issue, currently there is no suitable alternative for testing on animals. Studies such as behavioural studies and drug trials need to be tested in complete organisms, as until that point we are unable to see how such drugs might affect all areas of the body rather than just the specified target.

In order to develop treatments for disease we need to first understand the underlying pathologies of said diseases, which for many conditions, particularly those such a neurological disorders, is currently still unknown. Thus we rely on animal models to replicate the disease so that we can attempt to understand the cause and find cures.

Summary of the 2012 UK animal testing statistics with context into the use of GM mice

Of course animal models are by no means perfect, and often we are unable to fully replicate the human disease due to differing anatomy, however animal models have gone a long way towards helping us understand and develop theories for the treatment of conditions such as Parkinson’s.

Indeed animal testing has been crucial in the development of organ transplantation, the treatment of heart disease and the development of vaccines. Organ transplantation alone saves the lives of around 3000 people in the UK every year.

RSPCA have raised concerns about poor quality research being licensed and conducted

Other animal welfare organisation such as the RSPCA have raised concerns about poor quality research being licensed and conducted. “Research that is of little value, poorly designed or conducted, and badly reported is a waste of animals’ lives, causing suffering that should have been entirely avoidable”.

While poor quality research is certainly an issue that suggests that more careful scrutiny could be applied to applications for research, even they would agree that it is not grounds to campaign against all animal testing.

The Bristol University policy for the use of animals in tests states that “work is ethically reviewed, carefully regulated and kept to a minimum, within the overall objectives of advancing knowledge in the areas of biological, biomedical and veterinary sciences. The University of Bristol only uses animals in research programmes of the highest quality and where there are no alternatives.” Allowing us to be certain that at least at our own university, all of the research that takes place is of a high quality to ensure that no animal is used in vain.

No researcher wants to cause harm to animals, and the conditions in which they are kept are very good

No researcher wants to cause harm to animals, and the conditions in which they are kept are very good, with a vet on site for all projects to ensure that no unnecessary suffering takes place. However most major medical advances have been made with the assistance of animal testing, and hence it is vital, at least for the time being, in order to ensure that everyone will have the best chance of surviving illnesses that would otherwise be a death sentence.

Therefore until there is a reasonable alternative to animal testing that allows us to perform tests to the same standard without the use of animals, animal research will be necessary.


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