The Public Perception of Animal Research

Approximately half of the diseases in the world have no treatment. By understanding the human body and disease development through scientific research and the treatment of disease through pharmaceuticals, the prevention of disease through vaccines can be accomplished over many years; for one pharmaceutical to be developed it takes between 10 and 15 years at great economic cost. In order to develop preventatives and treatments, animal testing is still considered to be an overwhelming scientific consensus worldwide, and that research using animals is fundamental to overall scientific and medical progress (Oxford University, 2011). Indeed the benefits drawn from the use of laboratory animals for scientific research is outstanding: nearly every medical breakthrough during the last 100 years has been achieved through the use of animal research. For human beings, animal research has led to vaccines against diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps and tetanus. Key medical compounds, such as anesthetics have been developed, as well as antibiotics and insulin for the treatment of infections and diabetes respectively. Treatment for a host of diseases has also been developed, including multiple sclerosis, AIDS and leukaemia.

Technology has also developed for medical use; many individuals now take advantage of cardiac pacemakers, heart bypass surgery and kidney dialysis machines, and surgical advancements have allowed for safer and more functional organ transplants, hip replacements and cataract surgery to name a few. Not only do humans benefit from this research, but animals themselves also benefit (California Veterinary Medical Association, 2013). Without animal research millions of domestic and farm animals would be dead from over 200 diseases such as anthrax, rabies and leukaemia (Americans for Medical Progress, 2013). Due to the use of animal research, such diseases are wholly preventable and treatable. Overall, by using animal experimentation, the quality of life for both animals and humans has greatly increased.

So why are animals used for drug, vaccine and medical product development? Animal models allow for the greatest comparison and understanding of the chemistry and pharmacological effects of a product, and of its potential damage to the human body, otherwise known as toxicology. Animal research is used to measure the drug or biologic absorbance into the blood, how a product is broken down chemically in the body, the breakdown components (metabolites) from the drug and whether these cause organ toxicity, and how rapidly the product and metabolites are excreted from the body. Regarding medical devices, animal models are used to test the device’s ability to function within and alongside human tissues. Most devices that utilise materials such as ceramics or stainless steel that are known as biocompatible with human tissue, do not require animal testing. Materials that have no or little known biocompatibility data do require animal research (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2010).

Despite the need for animal research, and the transparency that the research companies, governments and other organisations provide, public opinion on animal research has always been and still is divided, with many individuals campaigning to abolish animal testing. Organisations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been formed to campaign against animal testing, such as using animals for both cosmetics as well as drug development. In contrast, organisations such as Understanding Animal Research (UAR) aim to educate the public on the facts surrounding animal testing. It is the aim of such organisations to raise awareness of the need for animal testing, whilst stating the facts and statistics, as well as describing the way animal research is conducted; with the utmost care, respect, and to completely minimise the harm of animals through the reinforcement of the 3Rs.

The 3Rs are a widely accepted ethical framework for conducting scientific experiments using animals humanely. The 3Rs consist of replacement: the use of non-animal methods, reduction: methods which reduce the number of animals used, and refinement: methods which improve animal welfare. Overall an important challenge of animal research is to develop scientifically robust non-animal alternatives, and where animals must still be used, to minimise numbers and suffering. The use of animal models is slowly reducing and improving; animal research is no longer conducted for the development of cosmetics. The use of animals to test cosmetics products or their ingredients is banned in the UK and all other member states of the European Union. Since March 2013 it has also been illegal to sell cosmetics within the EU which have been, or which contain ingredients, newly tested on animals (European Commission, 2013).

In 2010 Ipsos MORI, on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), compiled a public report presenting the findings of a survey on public attitudes towards animal experimentation and awareness of the work of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs). The survey was a nationally representative quota sample of adults aged 15 and over, who was interviewed throughout Great Britain, and found that a third of British adults object to animal experimentation when presented with the general statements ‘I do not support the use of animals in any experimentation’ and ‘the government should ban all experiments on animals’. However, 70% of those questioned ‘can accept animal experimentation so long as it is for medical research purposes’, 71% ‘can accept animal experimentation as long as there is no unnecessary suffering to the animals’, and 68% ‘agree with animal experimentation for all types of medical research, where there is no alternative’, providing one or more of these conditions are met. These findings remain relatively consistent since 2008, and show good general support of animal research.

Overall the public show good support for animal research. However, more transparency is required by organizations who do use animals for research; based on the survey conducted by Ipsos-MORI, 62% ‘feel that unnecessary duplication of animal experiments may go on’, a 4% increase from 2008 but around the same level as in 2007. Furthermore, 65% agree that ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if some animal experiments go on behind closed doors without an official licence’, a view consistent with that of 2006 and 2008, with a slightly higher proportion (69%) holding this view in 2007. Ultimately greater education and awareness of animal research is required in order for the general public to make more informed decisions on this area of science. Public engagement has increased in recent years through television, such as the BBC’s The Science Club, blogs like The Lay Scientist which explains science to non-scientists, newspapers with science sections and greater scientific correspondence, dedicated science journals and magazines, and greater social media presence. Scientists are also encouraged to participate in public engagement; The Wellcome Trust provides £3 million annually to their fellows to participate in public education and engagement (Nandra, K., 2013). Overall, scientists, organisations and governments need to collaborate and donate time to educate the general public and ultimately change public attitudes to science.

By Laura Riggall

References

Crettaz von Roten, Fabienne (2012), Public Perceptions of Animal Experimentation Across Europe. Public Understanding of Science Published online before print February 15, 2012, doi: 10.1177/0963662511428045 [Online]. Available at: http://pus.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/02/01/0963662511428045 (Accessed 30 Sep 2013).

Kiran Nandra (2013), Are Public Attitudes to Animal Research Changing? Accessed July 2013. Available online at: http://www.oxbridgebiotech.com/review/research-and-policy/are-public-attitudes-to-animal-research-changing/

BBC Ethics (2013), Experimenting On Animals: Animal Experimentation. Accessed July 2013. Available online at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/animals/using/experiments_1.shtml

University of Oxford (2013), Research Using Animals: An Overview. Accessed July 2013. Available online at: http://www.ox.ac.uk/animal_research/research_using_animals_an_overview/

California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) (2013), Animal Research: How It Benefits Both Humans and Animals. Accessed July 2013. Available online at: http://www.cvma.net/doc.asp?ID=2403

U.S. Food and Drug Administration (2010), Why Are Animals Used for Testing Medical Products. Accessed September 2013. Available online at: http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm194932.htm

European Commission (2013), Ban on Animal Testing. Accessed September 2013. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/animal-testing/

RSPCA (2013), Cosmetics Testing Using Animals. Accessed September 2013. Available online at: http://www.rspca.org.uk/allaboutanimals/laboratory/testingchemicals/cosmetics

Ipsos Mori (2010), Views On Animal Experimentation. Accessed September 2013. Available online at: http://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/publications/1343/Views-on-Animal-Experimentation.aspx

Home Office Research and Testing Using Animals (2013). Accessed September 2013. Available online at: https://www.gov.uk/research-and-testing-using-animals

National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), What are the 3Rs? (2013). Accessed September 2013. Available online at: http://www.nc3rs.org.uk/page.asp?id=7

Image from: https://www.retaildetail.eu/en/news/cosmetics/europe-wants-global-ban-animal-testing-cosmetics

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