Smallpox, anthrax, rabies, polio and many other vaccines.; insulin; chemotherapy for leukaemia; asthma medication; combined therapy for HIV infection; medicines for breast and prostate cancer; cervical cancer vaccine. That’s just a handful of world’s major medical advances that animal research has contributed to and I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t benefited from any of them.
The reason I want to talk to you about animal testing is because when I was at school, I knew nothing about it. You might have even done some animal dissection at school, for example, of a frog. I didn’t. In Lithuania (which is where I am from), this subject is pretty much a taboo and that alone makes me want to talk about it with you.I’m going to introduce you to some of the arguments that people use when people talk about animal research.
- If there was a way not to use animals, researchers wouldn’t (& that’s a legal requirement). Yes, the technology, tissue culture research and computing are getting smarter every day and enable us to do more and more, but it isn’t the solution yet. All researchers who work with animals need to get a licence from the Home Office and that isn’t easy. There is so much paperwork one needs to fill in before even starting research: you have to show that there really isn’t any other way but to use animals, you have to justify use of every single animal and every experiment.
- The obvious argument you’ll hear is that animals suffer and to cause that suffering is morally wrong. Then how about causing suffering to people by not developing medicines which would cure them from a multitude of diseases? I’ll leave you with that one. I’m not saying there isn’t suffering. There is, of course. But scientists are people like you and me and having visited an animal research lab in London I have seen that animals are cared for. Most animal procedures are mild, and not very invasive, like, a needle prick from taking a blood sample.
- Then you’ll get the argument on animal testing in cosmetics. Let’s get this clear – it has been banner in the UK for almost 20 years (since 1998 in the UK and 2013 across the EU, to be exact). So it does not happen. Period.Sometimes people say that animals are too different to us, that the research results will not be applicable to humans. Sometimes that’s true and in that case research isn’t carried out. But even though we look so different, all mammals are quite similar on the inside (the thought that our brains are structurally similar to mice brains is quite disturbing but also very interesting).
- It’s the secrecy that people don’t like and I get that. But again, that’s a myth isn’t it? In the UK, Home Office publishes information about animal use in research every year which makes the process trustworthy and accountable. In addition to that, the labs are inspected monthly, without a warning.
It’s okay to talk about animal research and question it. And more importantly, it is important to use educated arguments and not myths that people seem to be holding onto.
Further reading: check out Understand Animal Research schools’ website & other resources, very useful! You can also watch A day in the life of an animal technologist – a film around King’s College animal research facility with one of the animal technologists who in this episode shows us mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs.
In case you missed it, read the previous blog posts: on what it’s like to be a science journalist & about just how important evidence is in science policy.