Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Animal Research: For the Good of All Mankind

Animals play an amazing role in our lives. Whether they are assisting in search and rescue operations, working with law enforcement to solve crimes, or being our companion and friend, animals make our world healthier, happier and safer. Animals have also assisted in virtually every major medical advancement in the last century-for both human and animal health. From vaccinations and organ transplantation to bypass surgery and joint replacement, practically every present day protocol for the prevention, treatment, cure and control of disease is based on knowledge attained through animal research. Many of these medical findings were so profound, millions of healthy people are living proof of those results. Doctors and researchers overwhelming agree, based on the history of medical achievements, and the lack of dependable alternatives, the use of animals in medical research is both beneficial and necessary for the welfare of both humans and animals.

People of all ages continue to benefit from the medical discoveries using animals in research laboratories. This same research is also beneficial to the lives of animals. Pets, livestock, and animals in zoos live longer, more comfortable, and healthier as a result of animal research. Veterinarians can now treat diseases that once killed millions of animals every year. Vaccines for rabies, distemper and feline leukemia are all available because of animal research. History has shown that medical knowledge developed through animal research has saved countless lives, improved human and animal health, and has alleviated pain and suffering. Over the past one hundred years, more than sixty of the Nobel Prizes awarded for medicine were given for discoveries and advances where animals played an important part. Scientists and doctors who were awarded these prizes represented some of the best scientific minds and are responsible for some of the greatest medical breakthroughs in history. Only a few decades ago, people were dying, becoming paralyzed and crippled from diseases like smallpox, polio and diphtheria. The early 1900's produced two significant discoveries, Emil Adolf Von Behring’s development of a diphtheria antiserum and Ivan Pavlov’s findings on animal responses to various stimuli. Before the vaccination for diphtheria was developed, the disease was widespread, serious and often fatal. As many as 1 in 10 people, mostly children, became infected and many died. Equally as important were Pavlov’s findings on behavior through stimulation using dogs. These findings helped to understand human behavior and has had an enormous influence on western behavioral psychology. The discovery of insulin, from the successful use of laboratory animals, made it possible for millions of people with diabetes to liver longer, more productive lives. In 1954, doctors developed the culture that lead to a vaccine for polio. Doctor Albert Sabin later developed the oral polio vaccine. In a letter Doctor Sabin wrote he stated, “My own experience of over 60 years in biomedical research amply demonstrated that without the use of animals and human beings, it would have been impossible to acquire the important knowledge needed to prevent much suffering and premature death not only among humans but also among animals” (2). Penicillin was the first antibiotic that was successfully used in treating bacterial infections. Before its development, many people suffered and died of infections that are no longer considered dangerous. For example, just hurting yourself on a nail could eventually lead to death. Although it is true, penicillin was first discovered by Alexander Fleming in a petri dish, animal experiments paved the way for its clinical use.

Today, there are many important studies taking place in animal laboratories. Research to find cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and AIDS tops the list. Millions of people die of cancer related deaths every year. Medical breakthroughs, such as chemotherapy and cancerous sell reduction, have been the result of research on laboratory rats specifically bred for testing. Scientists are already testing a vaccine that slows the progress of Alzheimer’s in human patients and people with AIDS are receiving new drugs, first tested on animals, and living longer, more productive lives. Animal research will one day let us speak of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS and many other diseases as diseases of the past.

Knowing that research animals are treated responsibly and humanely strengthen our understanding, so does separating the facts from the myths. Animal activists against animal research often take statements out of context and misrepresent historical developments to suggest that animal research was not essential to a particular, significant discovery. The following are examples of historical myths and the real facts behind the myths: The first myth is that dogs, cats, and monkeys are used more than any other animal in medical research. The fact is, practically all research animals are rodents-mice and rats-bred for this purpose. Dogs, cats, and other primates account for less than one percent of the total. Another myth, commonly misstated by animal activists, is the notion that research animals are kept in pain. Not true. A leading scientist at the Foundation for Biomedical Research states, “The vast majority of biomedical research does not result in significant pain or distress to research animals”(Hansen 4). Furthermore, The USDA Annual Report revealed that “sixty three percent of all research procedures with animals involved no more than slight or momentary pain or distress” (2). Another myth that animal activists want the public to believe is there are no laws or government regulations to protect research animals and scientist can do “anything they want” to laboratory animals. The truth is, the USDA has set extensive regulations for the care of animals in research. A federal law, the Animal Welfare Act, has set standards for the care and treatment of laboratory animals, including housing, feeding, cleanliness, ventilation, and veterinary care. Facilities must also register with and be inspected by the Animal and Planet Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The Animal Welfare Act also requires that each institution establish a committee which is responsible for evaluating animal programs. The committee has the power to stop any research if it believes USDA standards are not being met. Another popular myth is the belief computer models and cell cultures can replace animal testing. While medical and scientific advances achieved through animal research are often supplemented by the knowledge taken through non-animal methods, such as, computer models, in vitro research, and clinical observation, these alternative methods serve only as adjuncts to basic animal research. It is true, most of the animal rights myths are clearly based on a misunderstanding of biomedical science, but some seem to be based on deliberate and cleverly constructed misinformation. Dedicated people work in research facilities. Daily animal care is not a glamorous job. The caretaker’s pay, also far from glamourous, does not keep people in the business and maintaining a compassionate outlook while caring for animals whose lives will be taken has its emotional toll. So what are the rewards? They begin with the sense of purpose and knowing that you play a key part in their well-being, and knowing that the research can contribute to advances in medical care for people and animals.

Many believe that all animal lovers support the animal rights movement. This assumption is based on a misunderstanding of the difference of animal welfare and animal rights. The American Veterinary Medical Association defines animal welfare as, “A humane responsibility that encompasses all aspects of animal well-being, from proper housing and nutrition to preventative care, treatment of disease, and when necessary, humane euthanasia”(1). Not only do scientists recognize their moral obligations toward laboratory animals, they also know the importance of maintaining healthy animals. Animals that are not kept healthy result in bad research data. One research doctor states, “Scientists, veterinarians, physicians, surgeons and others who do research in animal laboratories are as much concerned about the care of animals as anyone can be. Their respect for the dignity of life and compassion for the sick and disabled, in fact, is what motivated them to search for ways of relieving the pain and suffering caused by diseases”(Barbour 3). In contrast to animal welfare supporters, animal rights activists believe that animals should have the same rights as humans. Michael W. Fox, former vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, put it this way, “The life of an ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration”(1) Wow! I’m sure glad I’m not Mr. Fox’s child.

Another activist, definitely not in the running for mother of the year, is Ingrid Newkirk, President and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,(PETA). Ms. Newkirk has been quoted as saying, “Animal liberationists do not separate out the human animal, so there is no rational basis for saying that a human being has special rights. A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. They are all mammals” (1). Mammals yes, but hardly equal when talking about the importance of saving lives. It is difficult to support anyone that tries to make their point with such ridiculous claims. Many animal activists oppose animal research in any form, for any purpose, no matter how many human and animal lives might be saved. Although animal activists portray themselves as kind and compassionate, many in the movement sponsor and perpetrate illegal and violent activity-and these criminal acts are becoming more violent and more frequent. One chilling statistic was noted in recent years, “activists have stalked and assaulted members of the research community, harassed and threatened their families, broken into and destroyed labs, homes and vehicles, all in the name of animal rights” (Lewis 1).

History has shown us the medical wonders that have been achieved in laboratories with the help of animals, still, many believe there are reliable alternatives to using animals. Scientists, doctors, and medical researchers continue to search for alternatives to using animals in laboratories. Today, the concept of “The Three R’s”, refinement, reduction, and replacement as the first step leading to animal testing alternatives. Refinement refers to the modification of any procedure done to an animal in a laboratory from the time it is born until it is dead. These modifications should minimize any pain or distress. Reduction simply means doing anything that will reduce the number of animals being used in research. Using more of an animal and avoiding redundant experiments is all part of the reduction method. Replacement is achieved by taking experiments that do not need a living animal and using information based research, computer systems, human studies, cell tissue and organ culture. Even with the advancement in computer technology, there is no complete alternative to animal research. There is still an essential need to test drugs, medical devices and other promising treatments on animals before they are tested on humans because computer applications cannot give the same results as a living specimen.

Those who seek to end animal research, because they either reject it’s validity or because they believe the life of a rat is equal in importance to the life of a human, cannot dismiss the important medical findings achieved over the past century. The countless lives that have been saved because dedicated scientists continue to look for cures for cancer, AIDS and many other devastating diseases still plaguing this earth, cannot, and must not, be forgotten. Until these diseases are talked about as a “thing of the past”, and until more reliable alternatives are established, animal research must continue-for the good of all Mankind.

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