By Nadia Jones (see more of her blogs at online college)
For several months, animal rights activities in the UK have been putting extreme pressure on companies involved in the transport of animals intended for scientific testing, to the extent that in January, according to BBC News, the last major ferry operator willing to transport animals capitulated, and will no longer participate in the shipment of animal research specimens.
Most of the animals used in British laboratory experiments are raised on the island — only 1% of the animals are imported — but scientists say that the unofficial embargo on research animals threatens to undermine bio-medical research, and may ultimately have severe consequences for human patients.
Furthermore, without access to the specific animal strains they need, which are often imported from specialist breeding facilities around the world, it’s not just the research that will be significantly impacted.
BBC News reported that, “the life sciences sector generates some £50 billion a year and employs more than 165,000 highly skilled workers. But that won’t last if researchers can’t get the animal models they need to study disease and develop new drugs.”
Unfortunately, this is not a new story. The recent campaign against transportation companies is just one of many efforts by animal rights activists over the past century to put an end to animal testing.
Though there are several arguments leveraged against animal testing, the primary thrust of most activists’ cases is that animal testing is unethical and cruel. A report by the British Royal Society also notes that “opponents of the use of animals in research frequently use the availability of alternative, non-animal, research methods as evidence that using animals is unnecessary.”
Researchers and scientists, however, have a strong counterargument.
US researchers, for instances, recently made the case at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that, “not doing animal research would be unethical and cost human lives,” further saying that testing on animals has led to “dramatic developments in research that have improved and affected the quality of human life.”
Similarly, Science Minister David Willetts in the UK told BBC News that “the use of animals in research remains essential to develop new treatments and drugs, improve our understanding of disease and prove the safety and effectiveness of drugs and chemicals before they go forward for human trials.”
The Royal Society, in the report The use of non-human animal in research: a guide for scientists, claims “almost every form of conventional medical treatment, such as drugs, vaccines, radiation, or surgery, rests in part on the study of animals.”
And there are numerous cases that support their claim: in the early 1950’s and 60’s polio vaccines were introduced to the world, virtually eliminating the disease, developed with animal testing; in the late 1970’s, immunosuppressive drugs, which make kidney and other organ transplants possible and effective, were developed using animal testing; testing on animals continues to provide new insights into the CFTR activators that play such a large part in cystic fibrosis, bringing us ever closer to new treatment and therapy solutions.
Animal testing works because non-human animal biological systems act as models for human systems and allow scientists to determine a compound’s “safety and efficacy, whether a compound is safe for human ingestion and also whether or not a product works for its intended purpose,” according to Frankie Trull, president of the non-profit Foundation for Biomedical Research.
Trull went on to explain that while animals are not perfect analogs of human biology, “they’re still as close as we’re going to get without using a human.” Scientists hope one day to rely fully on computer modeling and other non-animal models, but that realizing that hope is still far away, and until we reach that level of sophistication, animal testing is a resource that has the potential to solve many human problems.
This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @ gmail.com.