Animal Research FAQ
How can research results derived from animal testing be extrapolated to humans?
There are striking similarities between the physiological systems of humans and various species of animals. For example, much of what we know about the immune system has come from studies with mice, and much of what we know about the cardiovascular system has come from studies with dogs. Research results from animals also provide the information necessary to design human trials that must be completed for legal approval of new devices, drugs or procedures. It is important to be able to gauge how a new drug or procedure will affect a whole biological system before using it on humans. This is critical for scientific as well as ethical reasons. Laboratory animals are an integral part of the research process. In fact, virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals.
What assurances exist that stolen or lost pets are not used in research?
While some research requires that dogs and cats are used, the vast majority of laboratory animals are rodents specifically bred for research. Nearly half of the dogs and cats needed for research are also bred for that purpose. Since state laws and local policies prevent many animal pounds and shelters from providing dogs and cats to research facilities, animal dealers are the primary source for the other half of the animals scientists require. These dealers must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and must adhere to Animal Welfare Act standards of care. Both dealers and research facilities can obtain dogs and cats only from specified sources and must comply with detailed record-keeping and waiting-period requirements. In addition, USDA conducts unannounced inspections of dealers and research facilities for compliance to help ensure research animals are not missing pets.
Why do veterinarians, who are supposed to care for sick animals, sometimes do experiments on them?
Veterinarians, who have chosen their profession because of their concern for animals, are intimately involved in the care and treatment of laboratory animals. They realize that results of animal research improve the health of animals as well as humans. In fact, many of the advances in veterinary medicine are the direct result of research with animals. The parvovirus vaccine, routinely administered by veterinarians, has saved the lives of many dogs. Pacemakers for both humans and animals were developed through research on dogs. Research in reproductive physiology on animals has helped save certain species from extinction. Distemper vaccines, tested on Siberian polecats, have resulted in the revitalization of the waning black-footed ferret population. In addition, the growing field of laboratory animal medicine has refined the care and treatment of laboratory animals, making the animals healthier and more comfortable. The scientific community realizes that quality laboratory animal care ensures more reliable scientific results, and therefore, it is in its best interest to treat laboratory animals with respect.
Aren't the animals in laboratories suffering and in pain?
The use of animals in research and testing is strictly controlled, particularly regarding potential pain. Federal laws, the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Act, regulate the alleviation and elimination of pain, as well as such aspects of animal care as caging, feeding, exercise of dogs and the psychological well-being of primates. Further, each institution must establish an animal care and use committee that includes an outside member of the public as well as a veterinarian. This committee oversees, inspects and monitors every potential experiment to help ensure optimal animal care. The scientific community advocates the highest quality of animal care and treatment for two key reasons. First, the use of animals in research is a privilege, and those animals that are helping us unlock the mysteries of disease deserve our respect and the best possible care. Second, a well-treated animal will provide more reliable scientific results, which is the goal of all researchers.
Why is it important to conduct product safety tests on animals when "cruelty-free" products are available?
It is important to remember the circumstances that led to safety testing of all new consumer ingredients and products, particularly cosmetics. As recently as several decades ago, consumers were subjected to products that were not adequately tested prior to use, resulting in reports of permanent harm, including blindness. Product safety testing ensures that products are safe when used as directed and provides scientific data for poison control centers and emergency room physicians in the event a product is misused. Adequate testing of products is both a moral and legal obligation to the public. The use of animals in product safety testing provides a whole, living system that can reflect how certain substances will react in or on the body. The term "cruelty-free" is often misused and misunderstood. Companies that claim they conduct no animal testing either contract testing to an outside laboratory or use compounds known to be safe through previous animal testing.
What happens to animals once an experiment is completed?
The majority of animals under study must be euthanized in order to obtain tissue for pathological evaluation and for use in in vitro tests. Euthanasia is the act of inducing a humane death. The American Veterinary Medical Association publishes euthanasia methods considered acceptable. Those animals involved in experiments that do not require tissue for pathological evaluation may take part in additional experiments. However, except in rare circumstances, federal regulations do not allow an animal to be used in more than one major surgical procedure.
Why are increasing numbers of animals sacrificed for research, especially for repetitive experiments?
The number of animals used in research has actually decreased in the past 20-25 years. Best estimates for the reduction in the overall use of animals in research range from 20-50%. This reduction is more consistent and striking when comparing species. For example, best government estimates report that the number of cats used in research has dropped 66% since 1967. Due to a variety of factors, including the increase in non-animal adjunct testing and the refinement of laboratory animal medicine, there are fewer animals used for many research projects. Repetition of some experiments must occur for a variety of scientific reasons. The validation of data is critical to minimize or discover potential error. Experiments must be repeated to account for even the slightest change in variables such as dosage, temperature and weight.
Why can't alternatives such as computer models and cell cultures replace animal research?
Computer models and cell cultures, as well as other adjunct research methods, are excellent avenues for reducing the number of animals used. These methods are used to screen and determine the toxic potential of a substance in the early stages of investigation, thereby reducing the total number of research animals needed. The final test, however, has to be done in a whole, living system. Even the most sophisticated technology cannot mimic the complicated interactions among cells, tissues and organs that occur in humans and animals. Scientists must understand these interactions before introducing a new treatment or substance into humans. In addition, there are very strong economic incentives to replace animals with computers or other adjunct methods. Research animals are very expensive to acquire and care for and are only used because no alternatives currently exist. For the near future, however, these adjunct technologies will be used in conjunction with, not instead of, laboratory animals.
Do we really have the right to experiment on animals? What about their rights?
The use of animals in research is a privilege that must be carefully guarded to assure human and animal relief from the specter of disease and suffering. To ignore human and animal suffering is irresponsible and unethical. Nearly every major medical advance of the 20th century has depended largely on research with animals. Our best hope for developing preventions, treatments and cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, AIDS and cancer will also involve biomedical research using animals. In fact, research on animals is in many cases an obligation. According to the Nuremburg Code, drawn up after World War II as a result of Nazi atrocities, any experiments on humans "should be designed and based on the results of animal experimentation." The Nazis had outlawed animal experimentation but allowed experiments on Jews and "asocial persons." The Declaration of Helsinki, adopted in 1964 by the 18th World Medical Assembly and revised in 1975, also states that medical research on human subjects "should be based on adequately performed laboratory and animal experimentation." It is crucial to distinguish between animal rights and animal welfare. The scientific community supports animal welfare, which means guaranteeing the health and well-being of these animals.
Don't people choose careers in animal research because it is an easy way to receive funding dollars and high salaries?
No. Most researchers could make more money in other careers. People choose to go into research because they want to find answers to complicated questions. Animal research is often a vital step in finding the answers. In reality, research dollars are scarce and are becoming more so, with approximately two-thirds of all worthy projects that seek grant money going unfunded. Animal research itself is and will continue to be very costly. Making sure animals are housed, fed, watered and appropriately cared for requires technical and veterinary staff dedicated to the science of laboratory animal medicine. Animal research is vital to continued progress in science and human and animal health. The payoff for animal researchers is not money but the treatments and cures that benefit both humans and animals.