Animal testing has had an influential role in almost every medical breakthrough in the last 100 years. Further, animals are essential in assessing drugs and vaccine safety. Approximately 26 million animals are used in the USA every year for research purposes. Drug Discovery utilizes animal models to test toxicity and safety, but, some still may wonder what are the benefits of animal testing and why do we need animals in research? In this article, we’ll explain the advantages that animal models provide to research, and how alternative models can be utilized.
Why Do We Use Animals In Research Testing?
Animal research has provided us with the ability to achieve life-changing discoveries through modern drugs, vaccines and various procedures. Testing on animals has saved and improved millions of lives. Animal testing has benefited researchers in understanding how to treat and prevent various conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, muscular dystrophy, and Parkinson's disease.
The fact that animals are needed can be explained by the complexity of the biochemical processes of humans. Using non-animal alternatives is useful, but it does not always provide the chance to study the interrelated pathways occurring inside humans. Also, many regulatory agencies require that animal models be used to test specific aspects of the experimental drug.
Various conditions such as high blood pressure and blindness cannot be tested using cell cultures due to the participation of multiple factors in pathogenesis. Even when using the most powerful simulations, it is not always possible to accurately simulate cell functions.
Additionally, there are many genetic similarities between some animals and humans. In fact, humans are 98% genetically similar to mice. This similarity allows for accurate testing on similar genes. Furthermore, many diseases are shared between animals and humans, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Because animals have a shorter life cycle than humans, scientists are able to study animals within their lifespan, shortening experimental times.
What Are The Benefits of Animal Testing?
Research on animal models has advanced the understanding and development of clinical and medical sciences. Correspondingly, it has directed the discovery of practically every single sort of treatment, such as drugs and surgery. For example, guinea pigs and frogs were heroes in the process of inventing asthma inhalers. Meningitis C cases are now rare, going down to 700 cases per year through the last decade, thanks to the animal models that were used during the research process. Today, 8 out of 10 pediatric cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia will have an average 5-year survival rate, compared to 25 years ago, when 70% of kids who had the disease died within 5 years. Likewise, kidney, heart, and other organ transplant advances, and immunosuppressant therapies, were all developed using animal models.
Animals can also benefit from animal research as well. Animals and humans have many shared conditions, diseases, and genes. These shared properties are now well understood and can be cured in both. Most veterinary drugs are based on similar drugs used by humans. For instance, diabetes studies in dogs and rabbits were performed to explore the option of treatment with insulin. Today, insulin is a major treatment for many conditions in animals.
Animal research does bring up the topic of ethical research. This concern can be related to the experiments themselves or the housing conditions of the animal. Due to this ethical concern, more researchers and regulatory bodies are moving towards the 3Rs Principle. The 3Rs of animal research are Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. These statements are devoted to greatly reducing the number of animals used for testing and animal distress. It is considered a systematic approach to animal testing.
One of the most common ways to practice the 3Rs Principle involves using alternative models for research. Alternative models are scientific models that researchers can use to study toxicity and efficacy of developing drugs, without involving the use of animals. A popular example of an alternative model that respects the 3Rs Principle are zebrafish embryos. Zebrafish are a popular alternative model because they share many similarities with the human genome. Also, alternative models such as Zebrafish, are more cost-effective than animal models, and allow for higher testing throughput.
These days, the 3Rs are included in many international governing bodies that oversee Drug Development and animal testing. While animal testing is necessary, it is certainly both economically and ethically beneficial to seek out alternative models and 3Rs practices.