Several ferry and airline companies in Britain have stopped transporting animals for research under pressure from animal rights groups. There are no British airlines that will carry animals to the UK, although foreign airlines still do. Groups that are trying to prevent laboratories from using animals seriously compromise scientific and medical research.
Using animals for medical research is a touchy subject. I don’t usually like to take issue with people voicing their opinion about animal research because people can get very upset about this topic. However; as a user of animals for scientific research, I believe they are indispensable for medical progress. Banning the use of animals in scientific research is equivalent to halting all progress to study human diseases, drug discovery, and drug safety.
There is no replacement for primary tissue (tissue from an animal) or whole animals for the study of diseases. Cell lines, which are specific cell types immortalized in a petri dish, cannot replace primary tissue. Cells that are continually cultured in petri dishes are basically cancer cells. Most cell lines come from cell-type specific tumors, which are cut up and then coddled with media and growth factors to allow them to stick to the bottom of the dish and continue growing and dividing. Cancer cells differ greatly from non-cancerous cells in their internal signaling pathways and metabolism, therefore; cannot reliably be used to understand how normal cells work or efficacy of drugs for other diseases.
Furthermore, without a whole animal, there is no way to test metabolism of new drugs. There are many organ systems in the mammalian body. Drugs have specific targets, yet other organs may be damaged or the body may metabolize a drug to a non-functional molecule. Any new drug cannot immediately be tested in humans; it’s too risky. Drugs need to be rigorously tested in animal models to determine if they are likely to harm a person or have off-target effects. There are several phases of drug discovery and development, and without animals, the drug development process completely stops.
To those that are concerned with animal welfare, all scientific research is tightly controlled by regulatory bodies. In the US, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) oversees all aspects of animal research to promote responsible use of animals. Any institution supported by the Public Health Service (PHS) ensures the appropriate care and use of all animals involved in research and follows the “U.S. Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing, Research, and Training” and implements the Health Research Extension Act of 1985. The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) also ensures that all of the PHS and IACUC policies and regulations are enforced. In the UK, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 licenses and regulates institutions, projects, and staff in similar ways. Animal research labs in both countries have to follow protocols to ensure no abuse of animals by using the minimum amount of animals with the least amount of pain, suffering, or distress.
To animal rights activists: think about a situation where your child has a deadly disease which could be managed and be survivable with a new drug. Would you rather push for good checks and balances within the animal research system to ensure that they are treated humanely and use the drug that allows your child to live, or not do everything possible to save your child? The possibilities significantly dwindle without animal research.