Last summer, we compiled a list of the  four major health risks for men and  animal research’s vital role in treating them. Now we want to share with you how animal research has helped treat the top four major health risks for women. These four health risks are some of the leading causes of death for women worldwide and animal research has played a vital role in helping each one.

#1 Cardiovascular (Heart) Disease

As with men, heart disease is the number one cause of death for women.  In 2017, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded that about 1 in every 5 female deaths were caused by a form of heart disease. The three top factors that cause heart diseases are high LDL (low- density lipoprotein) cholesterol, cigarette smoking, and high blood pressure.

Animal research has been behind the discovery of many drugs used to lower cholesterol levels. The most common cholesterol medications are called statins. Their job is to lower your LDL “bad” cholesterol and raise your HDL “good” cholesterol and they have been known to decrease the chances of heart attacks as well.

Dr. Akira Endo via The Lasker Foundation

Statins were discovered by Dr. Akira Endo who worked with canines, primates, rabbits and mice as his research models.  Dr. Endo’s discovery was claimed to “change the face of cardiovascular medicine.” In 2008, he was awarded the prestigious Lasker Award which is given to scientists who have made an outstanding contribution towards fighting a disease.

Another major part animal research that has helped in treating heart disease is the development of the cardiopulmonary bypass pump also known as the heart-lung machine. This widely used machine has the capability of acting as both the heart and lungs while the heart is stopped during coronary heart surgeries. This device was developed through years of research with canines and primates and has helped make numerous advances in cardiac surgery and has also helped heart surgeries become safer as well.

#2 Cancer

For women, there are two types of cancer that are the most common: breast and lung. Breast cancer is the #1 cause of cancer deaths for women worldwide while the lung cancer type is the leading cause of cancer death in America. In 2019 for the United States, there is an estimated 41,760 deaths for women from breast cancer and  111,710 deaths from lung cancer.

For decades, animal research has helped researchers discover treatments for cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, animal research has also helped with finding the defective genes and molecules that cause cancer, discovering how cancer grows and spreads and learning how the immune system attacks tumors.

Hamsters have played a vital role cancer treatment research.

With breast cancer, animal research was essential to the discovery of trastuzumab. Trastuzumab is an antibody that was developed in 1991 through research with hamster ovary cells.

It’s used to prevent the growth of the HER2 protein, which is a protein that helps breast cancer cells grow. Through continual research with mice, rats, and primates, trastuzumab was approved for the public in 1998. Trastuzumab is mostly given to women who are in the early stage of breast cancer and used to prevent breast cancer recurrence. In 2005, trastuzumab was able to prevent breast cancer recurrence by 50% after one year of treatment.

Lung cancer is the cause of 30% of cancer deaths for women and men. In 2018, a new drug was introduced called pembrolizumab which helps the immune system find and attack cancer cells in the lungs.  Researchers claim that a combination of this immunotherapy along with chemotherapy early on in cancer treatments can extend the life of lung cancer patients. Scientists discovered pembrolizumab through research with using primate and mouse models.

#3 Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain stops. Because of this, brain cells die from lack of oxygen and victims of a stroke can suffer from permanent memory loss and mobility issues.

Constrain-induced Movement Therapy via TBI 


According to the National Stroke Association, strokes are the 3rd leading cause of death for women and 55,000 more women die from stroke than men.

Animal research has taken part in helping create immediate treatments for stroke repair and recovery treatments. Thrombolysis is a therapy process that works to dissolve dangerous clot vessels which allows for blood flow and prevents tissue damage. Through testing with rabbits, thrombolysis was found to reduce brain cell death by 75%.

Those that suffer from a stroke can lose mobility in certain parts of their body. Through a study with monkeys, researchers discovered the success of constrain-induced movement therapy. This form of therapy is used primarily on the arms of stroke patients. The therapy uses a sling or mitt that restrains the less affected arm and forces stroke victims to only use their highly affected arm. After a period of training sessions, the highly affected arm will regain mobility which will allow the stroke patients to perform their normal daily tasks. This technique has proven very effective and is still used to help recovering stroke patients today.

#4 Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases (CLRDs)

CLRDs are a group of diseases that affect the lungs such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. These diseases are primarily caused by cigarette smoking, air pollutants, genetics or respiratory infections. There is no cure CLRDs but with animal research, treatments have been made to lessen the negative effects of these diseases.

Asthma is a condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways resulting in wheezing and breathlessness.  In 1998, guinea pigs and primates led to the discovery of the drug leukotriene-receptor antagonist (LTRAs). During this time, these drugs were the newest form of treatment for asthma that had been discovered in the past 20 years. It was a significant breakthrough because this new-found medication was able to treat the mildest to the most extreme cases of asthma.

These four major health risks for women have all used animal research to find treatments. As we live our daily lives and take our necessary medication, we must remember that these medications may not have been available without the help from animal models. Animal research is not just a thing of the past, but it continues even today to help women, men and animals live longer and healthier lives.

  • by Nelia Dashiell

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