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The use of animals in research has been an unresolved battle that’s hovered around since the establishment of the scientific discipline of bioethics in the 1960s. Just as surely as there are two sides to a coin, there are definitely pros and cons to using animals in research. The main drawback being, the inevitable trauma animals undergo and the pros being the expeditious advancement of medicine and study of disease pathology. The use of animals in research enable scientists to gain a better understanding of a disease pathway, and the molecular and physiological changes taking place in a diseased organism’s body. An acute understanding of a disease is required to devise an appropriate treatment. A newly discovered treatment cannot be directly introduced into human beings without first verifying its efficacy and safety. In order for a drug to achieve this standard, it needs to undergo a series of tests and trials. One of these trials are going to be indefinitely conducted on a living organism best suited for the conditions of the research. A drug that doesn’t pass an animal trial is very rarely used in human trials.
A common misconception is that animals used in research don’t benefit mankind. This however, is far from true considering the fact that up to 70% of Nobel Prizes for medicine and physiology are contributions engaging animals in research. The incidence of tuberculosis (TB), the ninth leading cause of death, has shown an overall reduction in the UK and many other countries. This success is due to the effective control of TB using BCG vaccines. The incidence of TB is expected to reduce by 80% by the year 2030, according to the World Health Organisation. It is questionable whether this would have been possible if not for the development of the BCG vaccine by Calmette and Guérin, whose work involved tests on cattle and monkeys.
A vaccine for anthrax is now available for use, owing to the research of Louis Pasteur, who used cattle in his research. This was the world’s first effective bacterial vaccine. This scientific contribution paved the way for many other medical advancements. There are three possible outcomes in a clinical drug trial involving animals; positive, negative or null. Regardless of the nature of the outcome, the research is never in vain. If positive, this could potentially be used as a drug for treatment, if negative this would save the trouble of dealing with the aftermath of potential side effects that would’ve occur in human trials. If neutral, the amount of resources, time and money that would have been pumped into the potential drug could be invested in another research. Therefore, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to state that animal trials do indeed benefit mankind. Although it appears as if though human beings are the only party benefitted at the cost of animals, it should be noted that animals are amongst the primary beneficiaries of it. According to the Animal Cancer Trust in UK, 1 in 4 dogs and 1 in 6 cats are at risk of developing cancer. The news of your pet being diagnosed with cancer is truly heart sinking to any pet owner.
Veterinarians have been able to treat animal cancers through research backed up treatment. A new drug was approved for the treatment of lymphoma for dogs by the U.S Food and Drug Administration in 2017. Progressions toward successful treatment not just for cancer but other animal diseases are underway. The more research conducted, the faster we will be at treatments that are more effective, safe and cheap for both humans and animals. The use of animals in research is followed by a protocol so as to reduce the trauma experienced by an animal to the minimum. Clinical laboratories are expected to function within the laws of animal welfare and the regulations of bioethical proceedings declared by the respective authorities. Failure to keep up with these standards is a punishable offence in most countries. In 2010, a laboratory in North Carolina was shut down due to abuse of animals. A biomedical lab in the U.S. was sued by the US Department of Agriculture in the year 2016. Needless to say, laws are in place to ensure the prevention of unnecessary and vain exploitation of animals.
The ‘Three – R strategy’ – which aims to reduce, refine and replace animal models in research has been implemented by the UK government and other research laboratories. This ensures that the research study design is optimised to reduce the number of animals used and reduce the trauma caused to an animal via appropriate usage of painkillers, and anaesthetics. Laboratories are expected to ensure that the animals receive proper nutrition, healthcare and treatment in support of the animal’s physical and psychological well-being. Wherever possible animal models are expected to be replaced by alternative methods. Although alternative methods such as cell culture, computer models and alternative organisms are available, they can’t replicate the actual, complex molecular mechanisms that occur within an organism when its diseased or introduced to a new treatment. However, it must be noted that most researches first use an alternative method, only if this is successful would they move into to animal trials. The practise of directly going into animal trials is denied permission by most bioethics law enforcement offices.
There is question of whether animal models are predictive of human models. The answer is no and yes. Yes, it is reasonable evidence that would suggest that human models would behave in a similar way. Unfortunately, it isn’t entirely assured as the genetic differences amongst different species could result in varying outcomes. As spoken by Jay Greene,’ If it matters, it produces controversy.’ Undisputedly animals are a valuable research tool, the complete abandoning of using animals in research would cause a significant lag in the advancement of medicine but wouldn’t mean the end of it. However, higher mortality rates due to new epidemics, shorter life spans and reduced life quality of the human race are possible outcomes.
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