Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Summer 1994, Vol. 5, no. 2 *************************

The Importance of Animals in Biomedical and Behavioral Research

A Statement from the Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Virtually every medical achievement of the last century has depended directly or indirectly on research with animals. The knowledge gained from animal research has extended human life and made it healthier through many significant achievements, as illustrated by the following examples: vaccines to prevent poliomyelitis and other communicable diseases; surgical procedures to replace diseased heart valves; corneal transplants to restore normal vision; new medicines to control high blood pressure and reduce death from stroke; antipsychotic drugs to treat mental disorders; broad spectrum antibiotics to treat infections; and chemical agents to cure or slow childhood cancers. Of course, there are many other diseases and disorders, such as AIDS, many forms of cancer, common cold, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, hepatitis, arthritis, cystic fibrosis, and brain and spinal cord injuries just to name a few for which either no effective prevention, treatment, or cure now exists.

The use of living animals remains an important way to solve a medical problem. Researchers continually seek other models to understand the human organism, study disease processes, and test new therapies. In seeking more rapid and less expensive ways to obtain basic biological information that can be applied to human disease, scientists often study simpler organisms, such as bacteria, yeasts, roundworms, fruit flies, squids, and fishes. Researchers have spent decades learning how to sustain cells, tissues, and organs from both animals and humans outside the body to understand biological processes and develop new medical treatments. Mathematical, computer, and physical models complement animal experimentation as well. Although computers alone cannot produce new biological information, they enable scientists to analyze vast amounts of data and test ideas. In the end, the validity of the results obtained from these model systems must be verified in appropriate animal systems and, possibly as the final step, in clinical trials using human volunteers.

Like most people, scientists are concerned about animal well-being. Elaborate safeguards in the form of Federal laws have been implemented to ensure that institutions comply with the regulations and policies affecting the care and use of animals in research. Before beginning a project, all research proposals involving animals must be carefully reviewed and approved at each research facility by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee comprised of scientists, veterinarians, and private citizens. Veterinarians trained in laboratory animal medicine are responsible for observing and caring for animals, providing guidance to researchers, and overseeing institutional animal care programs. In addition, institutions conducting animal research are routinely inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and monitored by the U.S. Public Health Service. Many institutions are further accredited by an independent evaluating body, the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

For more than a century, there have been organized groups and individuals who have objected to using animals in biomedical research. This opposition has increased markedly in the last two decades. Animal activist organizations spurred by a philosophy that there is no moral justification for the use of animals in research even to save human lives have attempted to slow or halt the work of scientists. Some disseminate misleading information, intimidate or harass individual scientists, conduct mass demonstrations, or even commit acts of vandalism or terrorism. The few health professionals who support the activist movement stand apart from the vast majority of the Nation's physicians, and most Americans readily accept the fact that animal research is necessary to achieve medical progress.

Institutions receiving support from the Public Health Service are obliged to adhere to the highest possible standards for the humane care and responsible use of laboratory animals. And scientists themselves have adopted the principle: "Good Animal Care and Good Science Go Hand in Hand."


This article appeared in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 2, Summer 1994

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