Overview of Animals in Scientific Research Fact Sheet
Is the use of animals in biomedical research really necessary today?
Research involving animals has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century. Even today, there is no complete alternative to biomedical research with animals.
Is it true that most research involves non-human primates?
No. The vast majority of research animals are mice and rats bred for this purpose. Dogs, cats, and non-human primates together account for less than one-half of one percent of the total, and this number has declined for more than 25 years. Since 1979, the number of dogs and cats needed in animal research has declined by more than 50%. The number of non-human primates needed represents less than .2% (.18% in 2004) and has remained relatively constant—in the 50,000 per year range—for the past decade.
Are there any accepted standards in place to safeguard laboratory animals and limit their use?
Yes, absolutely. Here is a brief overview:
- USDA has set forth federal regulations governing the care and use of animals in biomedical research that are considered even more extensive than those covering human research subjects.
- The Animal Welfare Act sets standards of care for research animals with regard to their housing, feeding, cleanliness, ventilation, and medical needs and requires the use of anesthesia or analgesic drugs for potentially painful procedures and during post-operative care.
- The US Public Health Service Act requires that all institutions receiving research funds from NIH, FDA, or CDC adhere to the standards set out in the "Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals" (see http://www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/labrats/)
- Institutions must follow detailed animal care recommendations and establish an IACUC to ensure that all animals are treated responsibly and humanely. (see http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/references/phspol.htm and http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/GuideBook.pdf)
Don’t the animals used in research experience considerable pain and distress?
No, not necessarily. The 2004 USDA Annual Report reveals that 57% of all research procedures with animals involved no more than slight or momentary pain or distress (i.e., an injection). In 34% of research procedures anesthesia and postoperative painkillers were used. In 9% of the procedures, neither anesthesia nor pain medication could be used, as they would have interfered with research results.
Historically, what have been the tangible benefits of animal research?
The list of medical advances achieved through animal research is extensive. Here is a partial listing, courtesy of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which indicates the specific advance, the year in which it was made, and the type(s) of animal involved:
|Year||Advance (type of animal)|
|1796||Vaccine for smallpox developed (Cow)|
|1881||Vaccine for anthrax developed (Sheep)|
|1885||Vaccine for rabies developed (Dog, Rabbit)|
|1902||Malarial life cycle discovered (Pigeon)*|
|1905||Pathogenesis of tuberculosis discovered (Cow, Sheep)*|
|1919||Mechanisms of immunity discovered (Guinea Pig, Horse, Rabbit)*|
|1921||Insulin discovered (Dog, Fish)*|
|1928||Pathogenesis of typhus discovered (Guinea Pig, Rat, Mouse)*|
|1929||Vitamins supporting nerve growth discovered (Chicken)*|
|1932||Function of neurons discovered (Cat, Dog)*|
|1933||Vaccine for tetanus developed (Horse)|
|1939||Anticoagulants developed (Cat)|
|1942||The Rh factor discovered (Monkey)|
|1943||Vitamin K discovered (Rat, Dog, Chick, Mouse)*|
|1945||Penicillin tested (Mouse)*|
|1954||Polio vaccine developed (Mouse, Monkey)*|
|1956||Open heart surgery and cardiac pacemakers developed (Dog)|
|1964||Regulation of cholesterol Discovered (Rat)*|
|1968||Rubella vaccine developed (Monkey)|
|1970||Lithium approved (Rat, Guinea Pig)|
|1973||Animal social and behavior patterns discovered (Bee, Fish, Bird)*|
|1975||Interaction between tumor viruses and genetic material discovered (Monkey, Horse, Chicken, Mouse)*|
|1982||Treatment for leprosy developed (Armadillo)|
|1984||Monoclonal antibodies developed (Mouse)*|
|1990||Organ transplantation techniques advanced (Dog, Sheep, Cow, Pig)*|
|1992||Laproscopic surgical techniques advanced (Pig)|
|1995||Gene transfer for cystic fibrosis developed (Mouse, Non-Human Primate)|
|1997||Prions discovered and characterized (Hamster, Mouse)*|
|1998||Nitric oxide as signaling molecule in cardiovascular system discovered (Rabbit)*|
|2000||Brain signal transduction discovered (Mouse, Rat, Sea Slug)*|
|2002||Mechanism of cell death discovered (Worm)*|
|2003||Non-invasive imaging methods (MRI) for medical diagnosis developed (Clam, Rat)*|