The Importance of Animal Research in Scientific Breakthroughs
Scientific breakthroughs have been critical in improving human health, developing new technologies, and advancing our understanding of the world around us. Research has enabled us to treat and cure many diseases and improved our knowledge of the human body, the environment, and nutrition. Animal research has played a vital role in driving many of these scientific discoveries, despite animal welfare concerns. This article explains why animal research is essential for scientific breakthroughs and the factors that make it necessary for continued scientific progress.
Why Animal Research is Necessary
Animal research remains a contentious issue despite the benefits it has been providing to the world. The use of animals in research has led to many medical innovations, including vaccines and surgical procedures. It continues to be relied upon when developing new drugs and to gain information about our immune responses, the development of illnesses, and other scientific procedures. When it comes to testing new procedures or treatments, animals are used as models because of their similarities to humans.
Animal models are chosen because they can provide essential data and insights for the research experiment without harming humans. This is especially true when it comes to deadly or debilitating diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and dementia. The complex interactions and various mechanisms that are involved in these diseases cannot be mimicked in cell or tissue cultures or in computer simulations. Instead, animals with comparable genetic, physiological, and anatomical aspects to human beings provide an ideal model.
Examples of Landmark Discoveries and Innovations Made Possible by Animal Research
Animal research has had an enormous impact on medical and scientific advancements in the last century. Here are a few examples of landmark discoveries and innovations that have been possible because of animal research:
- Insulin Treatment: Insulin, a hormone for treating diabetes, was first isolated in 1921, and the first clinical trials to prove its efficacy in humans were conducted using animal models.
- Polio Vaccine: In the 1950s, Jonas Salk developed an effective polio vaccine after studying the virus in monkey and mice models.
- Transplantation: Advances in organ transplantation resulted from using animal models and have saved thousands of human lives, and also helped to develop lifesaving drugs to prevent organ rejection without causing significant harm to the recipients.
- Antibiotics: Penicillin was discovered in 1928, thanks to research that includes studies on rodents.
- Cancer Treatments: Chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer classically rely on animal research and development. Consequently, cancer mortality rates have declined significantly in the last 50 years.
The 3Rs Principle of Animal Research
Despite the benefits, animal research can be controversial, with concerns over animal welfare being at the forefront. The potential for suffering of laboratory animals has prompted the enactment of laws and guidelines that regulate animal welfare. Animal research is not conducted arbitrarily, but according to the principles of research that prioritize animal welfare, such as the 3Rs.
- Replacement: The use of animal experiments can be replaced with other methods, such as cell or tissue cultures, that do not cause harm to animals.
- Reduction: The number of animals used in an experiment is essential, and researchers aim to reduce the number of animals required for experimentation by increasing the quality of studies and reducing redundant studies. They also attempt to maximize the amount of data obtained from each experiment, ensuring that the experiments are well planned and designed.
- Refinement: The refinement of experiments seeks to improve laboratory animal welfare by narrowing the scope of intervention’s severity, the appropriate use of anesthesia and analgesics, and providing postoperative care to ensure animal welfare. Researchers also aim to provide animal enrichment to enhance animal welfare and keep animal stress levels to a minimum.
The 3Rs approach is currently employed in animal research globally and is enforced by different organizations, including governments and private organizations.
Challenges Faced in Animal Research
Despite the benefits associated with animal research, it is still beset by many challenges. One of the most significant challenges is the ethical issues concerning the use of animals. Laboratory animals face suffering and discomfort, including pain, unethical procedures, and the possibility of being euthanized. Consequently, researchers are required to provide justifications for animal use and demonstrate that the study would be impossible with other methods.
Another challenge facing animal research is funding. The cost of animal welfare regulations, housing, veterinary services, and equipment are relatively high. Governments, private foundations, and the biotech industry primarily fund animal research to minimize the cost burden to researchers.
Lastly, the regulatory and oversight requirements around animal research are complex, and the rules differ by country. Researchers need to acquire approval from their institutional Ethics Committee, and ethical review boards govern animal research. They must also follow guidelines such as a requirement for anesthetics, analgesics, and appropriate vaccines.
Animal research remains central to scientific advancements that have revolutionized numerous fields in human health, technology, and environmental science. It has helped to provide life-saving treatments and therapies for humans over the years. Researchers continue to refine the 3Rs regulation of animal use and have shown significant efforts in upholding ethical standards in their research practices. However, more needs to be done to address the significant challenges still facing animal research. Despite the challenges, if we are to continue to make significant advances in scientific research and the treatment of disease, animal research will play a crucial role in these efforts.
- Understanding animal research. Wellcome Trust. https://wellcome.org/sites/default/files/wtp056031.pdf
- Why is animal research necessary? Genetic Science Learning Center. University of Utah. https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/animals/whynecessary/
- The Three Rs principle: replacing, reducing and refining animal experiments. Best Practice & Research. Clinical Anaesthesiology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpa.2006.02.001