During Allison Gurney’s last day as our AP Biology student teacher, our class learned about animal research in biomedical studies. After Ms. Gurney’s presentation on her research experience using animals, the class participated in a group activity. Students were asked to stand in one of the four corners of the room that represented a different stance on the use of animals in biomedical research – Strongly Opposed, Opposed, Not Opposed, and Strongly Not Opposed. First, pictures of small fish were shown, then pictures of mice, then the photos of larger animals. When the small fish and mice were displayed, the majority of students went to sand on the “Not Opposed” side of the room, but when larger animals were shown that ratio flipped. I stood in the not opposed corner the entire time.
After the class ended I felt confused. Why would so many people denounce animal testing for biomedical research when it has the potential to benefit so many? As a lifelong vegetarian, I do have concerns about the mistreatment of animals. I am opposed to animal testing for cosmetic purposes or when other models can be used as replacements. I am also opposed to any type of animal abuse and the unnecessary use of animals in medicine when avoidable.
However, I do not consider the use of animals for biomedical research as inhumane. As Ms. Gurney said regarding animal research, “I recognize its use to improve human life. So I think about the advances we have made in cancer, or with different immune diseases, or the HIV/AIDS epidemic. A lot of that has come through using animal models because you can’t really get that same information just by using a computer model,” she said. Ms. Gurney is right, according to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, animal research has led us to many advancements – e.g. the polio vaccine, the eradication of smallpox, treatments for asthma, antibiotics and successful organ transplants, just to name a few. Animal testing has played an important role in many of the medical advancements that exists today.
Animal testing has even helped extend the lives of our furry friends. It has led to vaccines that can prevent feline leukemia and tetanus. Animal research has also aided the search of treatments for heartworm, a sometimes fatal disease that most commonly affects dogs.
The process of obtaining animals for research is also very strict, as it should be. “Before you even have an idea, you have to be attached to some kind of research institute. Researchers must find funding, usually through a grant, and often through the National Institute of Health (NIH). Then you write a protocol and describe the objective of your study and the big thing in there is they want to know what you’ll be using the animals for. You always have to justify the number of animals you will be using because they want you to use the least amount of animals possible,” Gurney summarized.
Physician Rachel Hajar discusses the 3Rs campaign in her paper, Animal Testing and Medicine: “replace animals with technology, reduce the number of animals, and refine the experiments to minimize animal suffering.” This campaign is important. Although I am not opposed to animal research I do believe that the minimum number of animals should always be used.
As Ms. Gurney described, the researcher’s protocol is then submitted to the organization’s IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee). Most universities have an IACUC that will review and approve the protocol. The scientist then has to justify how their experiment will advance scientific knowledge. If the experiment is approved it will be monitored by AAALAC (the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International), a private non-profit organization. These regulations help ensure that animal research remains humane.
According to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, if we were to stop the use of animals in biomedical research there would be very little hope of finding cures for the millions of people who suffer from diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other devastating diseases. Keep in mind that ninety-five percent of these animals are rats, mice, and other comparable animals. Should we always advocate for the humane treatment of animals? Yes, of course. However, reconsider your outlook and perspectives about the use of animals in biomedical research because it is something you will likely benefit from during your lifetime.
About the author: Madeline Mahoney is a staff writer for the South High Southerner (Minneapolis, MN). She is a senior who is looking forward to college and hopes to one day become a physician. This piece was originally published in the Southerner and is reposted with permission.