Frequently Asked Questions

What is Animal Research?

Answer: Animal research is the study of animals for scientific and medical discovery. Research animals, also called lab animals, are bred specifically for research. Studying lab animals gives researchers important insights into how a disease works in the body. Once they understand how a disease works, they can begin to develop and test treatments with the help of animals.  

What is Animal Testing?

Animal testing is essential to understand the safety and proper dosage of new medicines and treatments. Animal testing shows researchers whether or not a drug is safe in animals. If researchers find that it is safe through animal testing, they can begin testing the drug in small groups of people and then larger groups of people. Both extensive human and animal testing is required by law before a drug can be approved to treat illnesses. It is not ethical to give children or adults a medicine without first testing it for safety and side effects in both animals and people.

Why is Animal Research Necessary?

Nearly every medicine, medical device, surgical procedure or therapy we have today has depended on animal testing and research. Animal research is one of the first steps in medical discovery. In order to understand how a disease works in the body, scientists study the disease in animals. Animal research gives them the knowledge they need to discover and create treatments to help both people and animals living with illnesses.

Why are Mice and Rats Studied in Research?

About 95 percent of all lab animals in medical research are rats and mice bred specifically for the research. Researchers like to study rats and mice because the way their bodies’ look and work on the inside is very similar to the way our bodies function. Rats and mice are also very similar to people genetically. The mouse genome contains mostly the same genes found in the human genome, so studying how mouse or rat genes work informs how human genes impact health and disease. This is important because many new therapies and medicines work by targeting specific genes in the body. Scientists can use their knowledge of how genes work to recreate diseases in animals. For example, they can model human breast cancer in mice to study the disease and test treatments. This ability and understanding has revolutionized medical research and opened many doors to finding new cures for disease, especially cancer, and rare diseases.

Why are Primates Studied in Research?

Primate research is essential now and for the future of human health. Researchers make discoveries with the help of primates that would be impossible without them. Primates are so similar to people genetically (98%) that they can show us how diseases work in the human body, in ways no other animal, computer or cell culture can. Primates are a bridge between smaller animals and people. 95 percent of animal research is conducted with the help of smaller lab animals (rats, mice, birds, zebrafish and worms). But they can only tell us so much. Once a disease or drug is studied in smaller animals, it can be further explored in primates. Primates are more predictive of how a disease acts or how a treatment will work in people.

Are Other Animals Studied in Research?

While mice and rats are key models for research, many other animal species have contributed to dramatic advances in biology and medicine. Rabbits and guinea pigs have also have made enormous contributions to understanding the cause, treatment and prevention of many complex diseases. Other important lab animals are fruit flies, zebrafish and worms.

Some animal research involves non-human primates, dogs, cats and pigs because they are the best models of certain diseases. Less than one half of one percent of animal research is conducted with these animals. Most animal research is conducted with rats and mice that are bred specifically for research.

Has Animal Testing and Research Helped Me?

Nearly every medical breakthrough involves animal research. If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, had a vaccine, a blood transfusion, dialysis, an organ transplant, chemotherapy, bypass surgery or joint replacement, you have benefitted from animal research. In fact, practically every drug, treatment, medical device, diagnostic tool or cure we have today was developed with the help of animal testing and research.

Many diseases that once killed millions of people every year are now either preventable, treatable or have been eradicated altogether. Immunizations against polio, diphtheria, mumps, rubella and hepatitis save countless lives and the survival rates for many major diseases are at an all-time high thanks to the discovery of new drugs and the design of sophisticated medical devices and surgical procedures.

What are Alternatives to Animal Testing and Research?

Right now, there is no comprehensive substitute for animal testing and research. Certainly, computer models and cell cultures, as well as other adjunct research methods, reduce the number of animals used. But there is no way to completely replace animal testing and research because the pathway to fully duplicating a whole, living system does not yet exist. Cell cultures and computers are limited in what they can model.

Is Animal Testing Ethical?

It is not ethical for researchers to test new treatments on people before they have been tested and researched with lab animals. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) outlaws clinical drug trials in people that have not first been tested in animals. To test new treatments in people before researching and testing their safety in lab animals would fly in the face of the Nuremberg Code, a set of ten ethical research practices adopted by the scientific community at the end of World War II to prevent barbaric experiments of the sort conducted on concentration-camp prisoners from ever happening again.

Are Lab Animals in Pain?

The use of animals in research and testing is strictly controlled, particularly regarding potential pain. In the U.S., federal laws, the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Act, regulate the alleviation and elimination of pain, as well as such aspects of animal care as caging, feeding, exercise of dogs and the psychological well-being of primates. Further, each institution must establish an animal care and use committee that includes an outside member of the public as well as a veterinarian. This committee oversees, inspects and monitors every potential experiment to help ensure optimal animal care. The scientific community advocates the highest quality of animal care and treatment for two key reasons. First, the use of animals in research is a privilege, and those animals that are helping us unlock the mysteries of disease deserve our respect and the best possible care. Second, a well-treated animal will provide more reliable scientific results, which is the goal of all researchers.

Is Animal Testing and Research Regulated?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set forth federal regulations governing the care and use of laboratory animals in biomedical research that are more extensive that those covering human subjects. The AWA (Animal Welfare Act) sets high standards of care for lab animals with regard to their housing, feeding, cleanliness, ventilation and medical needs. It also requires the use of anesthesia or analgesic drugs for potentially painful procedures and during post-operative care. Most importantly, research institutions are required – by law – to establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee all work with animals. The IACUCs require researchers to justify their need for animals; select the most appropriate species and use the fewest number of animals possible to answer a specific question. All IACUCs include at least one veterinarian and one community representative, unaffiliated with the institution. These committees have the authority to reject any research proposal and stop any project it believes has failed to meet proper standards. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Act requires that all institutions receiving research funds from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control, adhere to the standards set out in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Under the PHS policy, institutions must follow detailed animal care recommendations and establish an IACUC to ensure that all animals are treated responsibly and humanely.

What Have Been the Results of Animal Testing and Research?

Animal testing and research is behind virtually every treatment in existence — and we have all been the beneficiaries. Research in cows helped create the world’s first vaccine, which in turn helped end smallpox. Studies with monkeys, dogs, and mice led to the polio vaccine. Drugs used to combat cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, hepatitis, and malaria would not have been possible without research with non-human primates. See our animal testing and research achievements chart for more.

Does Animal Testing and Research Help Animals?

Animal research also helps animals. It has resulted in many remarkable lifesaving and life-extending treatments for cats, dogs, farm animals, wildlife, and endangered species. Pacemakers, artificial joints, organ transplants, and chemotherapy are just a few of the breakthroughs made in veterinary medicine thanks to animal testing and research. Dogs, cats, sheep, and cattle are also living longer and healthier lives thanks to vaccines for rabies, distemper, parvo virus, hepatitis, anthrax, tetanus, and feline leukemia. New treatments for glaucoma, heart disease, cancer, hip dysplasia, and traumatic injuries are saving, extending, and enhancing the lives of beloved pets while advanced reproductive techniques are helping to preserve and protect threatened and endangered species.

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