Many people believe that animal research is done only to benefit humans. What you may not realize is that most of the same research benefits animals. As you receive vaccines against deadly diseases, so do they. As you take antibiotics for your sickness, so do they.
In fact, people and animals share about 50 of the same diseases. Ranging from asthma and epilepsy to high blood pressure and cancer. Doctors and veterinarians share almost 100 of the same medicines to heal humans and animals.
There is a misconception among some people that animal research is unnecessary. But without it, the prognosis for millions of animals would be simple—they would develop diseases or contract viruses that would be untreatable, they would suffer, and eventually they would die.
Most of us care deeply about animals. We treasure our pets, visit the zoo, feed the birds and enjoy wildlife programs on television.
But we also care deeply about our health and the health and well being of our loved ones and neighbors. When we are sick, we take medicine. To keep from getting sick we watch our diet, try to exercise, take vitamins and get vaccinated against deadly diseases. We follow the medical news – the breakthroughs and the outbreaks.
Never before has science been so close to finding new cures for diseases. We are about to complete the mapping of the human chromosome, a huge international effort that should provide the answers so many medical questions, and set the stage for a whole new era in genetic treatment of diseases. Microbiology and engineering will provide yet more amazing medical marvels. Soon we will have implantable microchips that will deliver medications, as needed, around the clock. There will be artificial organs for transplant and a vast array of implantable devices to correct everything from seizures to diabetes. Robots will perform delicate surgery with a precision unknown to man, as surgeons conduct procedures at remote computer terminals instead of operating tables, often from many miles away. There will be devices and surgical procedures to correct blindness, birth defects, learning disorders and organ failure. We will cure most types of cancer. We will be able to “regrow” damaged spinal cord nerves and tissue and reverse paralysis. The list goes on. There will be vaccines and better treatment for AIDS and many other infectious diseases. The average life span will be extended significantly. How far? Only time will tell.
Virtually all of these medical miracles will involve research using laboratory animals, just as has every medical breakthrough over the past century. There is a very compelling reason for this: we have no other choice. It is true that we have developed non-animal procedures for some tests, and the number of these alternatives is growing. But scientific progress against human ailments requires studying living organisms. There is no other way.
It isn’t always easy to reconcile our love for animals with the need for the humane and responsible use of them in medical research. But it helps if we can distinguish the facts about this work from the myths that continue to hinder lifesaving biomedical research.