Why Are Animals Used in Medical Research?

Mankind owes much of their knowledge about diseases and their treatment to the many animals in laboratories across the world that have contributed to medical breakthroughs dating back as far as the ancient Greeks. Animals such as mice, rats, cows, horses, and monkeys have proven invaluable allies in the fight against deadly disease, viral illnesses, and even the effects of aging. Here are just some of the ways animals help mankind stay at the cutting edge of research.

To Study Disease Models

When used in combination with gene editing technology, animal test subjects can be used as study groups for disease modeling. Humans share 90% of their genes with every mammal alive today, which is why they are used in drug and treatment testing. Gene therapy helps them become even better subjects for studying diseases as the careful removal of species-specific genes can result in even closer genetic matches and more accurate data. By using technology such as the PiggyBac transposon system, which allows for transgene integrations into embryos, scientists are able to create the perfect model for testing how diseases interact on a biological level.

To Test New Drugs and Treatments

All medical treatments, therapies, diagnostic tools, and surgical techniques started out as theories that needed to be tested to establish if they would be effective and safe for people. From operations such as open-heart surgery to the development of the smallpox vaccine, animals play a vital part in the testing process in the medical world. A notable example of a treatment whose development was only successful thanks to animal testing is Herceptin, a drug used to combat breast cancer. A landmark discovery in the battle against one of the most common forms of cancer, Herceptin was produced using hamster ovary cells, but their research also included the use of rats, mice, and macaques.

To Protect Humans and Animals

Although a controversial topic, the use of animals in the testing of new drugs and treatment options is essential if they are to undergo safe evaluation and approval for testing on humans. According to the federal government, new treatments are required to undergo non-human animal research before they will approve human trials to ensure their safety and efficacy. Not only does this form of testing ensure the treatment is safe, but it can also assist in determining the dosage requirements for human trials.

Animals are also used in the production of new chemicals for commercial and personal use. Thanks to their genetic similarities to humans, scientists can test the effect of new chemicals in a controlled environment so that they can study not only the immediate effect of the substance but also its long-term impact.

While animal testing is important to further our knowledge of biology and disease control and mitigation, it is vital that it be done in an ethical and responsible manner. While many organizations and governing bodies are calling for the implementation of the 3Rs of animal research, namely Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement, there is no denying that human medicine has benefitted greatly from the use of animal testing in the past and that many diseases would still be running rampant if not for these important creatures’ contribution to the field.

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