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Animals have always been used in research, particularly medical research. The need to determine the toxicity, dangers, effects and side effects of new drugs require the use of animals. According to MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), researchers usually start with cell lines then move up to complex living beings, such as a rodent ( ). Then, depending on the drug being tested, they move to a mammal, such as a dog or monkey, before testing the drug in human trials ( ). Lately, it has become a subject of huge controversy due to the ethical aspects of it and we cannot ignore the true facts. Even though animals are living creatures too, it is not practical to use humans for testing all the time or use drugs without knowing their toxicity levels.
Scientific research by using animals has a surprisingly long history, dating back to the fourth century B.C - Aristotle is one of the first known to have performed experiments on living animals. According to Emma Lloyd of www.brighthub.com, the first significant observations to modern science were made in the 1600s, when William Harvey used animals to observe and describe the blood circulatory system.
There are many pros and cons to the practice of animal testing. Apart from the ethical views, most of the major medicinal advancements could not have been made without animal testing but on the other hand, we cannot completely ignore the fact that animals are living creatures too, capable of feeling pain. Unfortunately, neither the pros nor the cons seem to fully tip the scale to a side that pleases everyone - including the public, government, media and scientists.
Firstly, in animal testing, countless animals are experimented on and then killed after their use. When we speak about animal testing cons, there are plenty of emotional and ethical issues staring right at our faces. The foremost con is the issue of pain the animal goes through. Although, it is claimed none of the animals were hurt in the test, but how can we be 100% sure that it is true? Not all animal handlers are alike and some may just stick the needles through their body, keep them in cramped up cages, with little or perhaps no food. Animals cannot speak, so how can we determine whether or not they are being hurt and the level of pain the poor creature is going through? Some others are injured and will still live the remainder of their lives in cruel captivity. The unfortunate aspect of this issue is that many of these animals receive tests for substances that might or might not work. It is this aspect of animal testing that many view as a major negative point against the practice. This aspect seems to portrait the idea that the poor animal died in vain because no direct benefit to humans resulted from the animal testing. But according to www.time.com the major benefit for animal testing is that it helps researchers in finding drugs and treatments to improve health and medicine. Many medical treatments have been made possible by animal testing, including cancer and HIV drugs, insulin, antibiotics, vaccines and many more. It is for this important reason that animal testing is considered vital for improving human health and it is also why a major portion of the scientific community and many members of the public support its use. In fact, there are many individuals who are against animal testing for cosmetics and vanity but still support animal testing for medicine and the development of new drugs for disease.(www.brighthub.com same author as previous one) Many advances in medical research could not have been made without the using animals in one way or another, and many have been of enormous benefit to humanity.
In the 1920s, experiments on dogs allowed Sir Frederick Grant Banting, a Canadian medical scientist, to determine the functions of the pancreas in producing insulin. Before this discovery was made, a person with a diagnosis of diabetes was like being given a death sentence. In the 1940s and 1950s, streptomycin was used by a group of researchers to cure tuberculosis in guinea pigs. These experiments were followed by trials on humans which demonstrated that antibiotics could stop or maybe even reverse the spread of the disease. Antibiotic treatments for leprosy were tested, developed and implemented in armadillos. Primates, because of their close genetic ties with human beings have been used extensively for AIDS research, with anti-viral and prophylactic treatments evaluated in several types of monkeys.
Secondly, there is also an argument that the reaction of a drug in an animal's body is quite possibly different from the reaction in a human due to differences in the cell makeup of both. The main criticism here is that a lot of people believe that animal testing is unreliable. Another part of that criticism is the argument that because animals are in not in their natural environment, they will be under stress. Therefore, they won't react to the drugs and chemicals in the same way compared to their potential reaction in their natural environment. However, this argument has not been backed up by reliable scientific and medical sources so we do not have to consider it to be of much importance. But another important aspect to be noted is that animal testing helps to ensure the safety of drugs, medicines and many other substances that humans use or are exposed to frequently. This means that potential human harm is reduced and human lives are saved - not simply just from the avoidance of the dangers of drugs but because the drugs themselves save numerous lives as well as improve the quality of human life. Toxicology testing is an unavoidable part of animal testing because it is used to ensure the safety of various substances that humans use such as drugs, cosmetics and medicines. These toxicology tests are conducted by pharmaceutical corporations and other establishments such as animal testing laboratories who are hired to perform animal testing for private companies.
Another con on the case of animal testing is the overall cost. Animal testing generally costs a huge amount of money. Animals must be fed, sheltered, cared for and treated with drugs or a similar experimental material. The controlled atmosphere and environment is important but it comes with a high cost. In addition, animal testing may occur more than once and over the period of months, which means that additional costs are incurred. The price of animals themselves is also not all that low. There are companies who breed animals specifically for testing and a whole breed of animals can be purchased through them. According to www.wikipedia.org, it is estimated that over 150 million vertebrate animals, including mice, rats, birds, fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, farm animals, dogs, cats and non-human primates, are used for scientific researches annually worldwide. Sadly enough, as per the records of WWF approximately 1,645,545 animals die during a year due to animal cruelty. And astonishingly, according to www.yahoo.answers.com, American taxpayers pay the government $12 billion on funding for animal testing a year. As per the statistic records of Eurogroup for Animals, Belgium, toxicology testing is an area of animal testing with approximately a million animals used per year in Europe alone. Roughly five thousand animals undergo testing for just a single chemical or drug and the number is more than double that for pesticides and fertilisers. Furthermore, many argue, while the lives of animals deserve some respect, the value we place on animal lives does not count as much as the value we place on the life of a human being. Human beings have capabilities and sensibilities that are much more highly developed than that of animals. Because humans are more highly developed, their life always counts for more than that of animals. If we had to choose between saving a dying baby and saving a dying rat, we would surely save the baby.
Since the above points have made it clear that animal testing is very much needed for scientific development, a number of alternatives have been developed recently to overcome the cons mentioned above. According to Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME). England , there are three Rs in encouraging non-animal testing research methods. They are:
R efinement: minimize suffering, distress and enhance animal welfare.
R eduction: minimize number of animals used or obtain more information from same animals.
R eplacement: avoid the use of living animals and use non-animal methods.
Animal testing alternatives play a vital role in reducing the numbers of animals used as well as the level of their suffering during experimentation. Several methods have been developed in recent years to enhance non-animal usage in research. One such method is by using synthetic membranes.By growing cells artificially, many biological and medical tests can avoid the use of animals. According to www.wikipedia.org this was first done by an organisation in the United States in the early 1990s and the techniques for creating such mediums have vastly improved since then. These synthetic membranes can be used as a substitute for animals and they are used to demonstrate the effects of chemicals or specific treatments on skin. This can overcome the usage of traditional tests where an animal's fur has to be shaved, and then a probably corrosive chemical would be applied to its back to observe the effects on it. Using statistical data and procedures instead of animal testing can allow researchers to use comprehensive data sets to better determine how a disease can spread. They also make use of previously obtained data from animal testing by analyzing them. This allows them to avoid using animals, which will definitely reduce the number of animals used in testing. Cell cultures can also provide a very effective means to replace animal testing. In the past decades, animals were mainly used for purposes such as vaccine development and creation. Throughout the 1970s in the Netherlands, for example, thousands of monkeys and other primates were used to develop the polio vaccine. Nowadays, a kidney cell culture can be taken. In fact, a mere ten monkeys is sufficient enough to provide the vaccine to each person residing in a country. There is also an added benefit of using cell cultures. It is that any vaccine taken from cell cultures is in a form that is especially pure compared to a vaccine derived directly from the animal. This means that the usual procedures of safety testing that must occur on the vaccines can essentially be reduced. Newer scanning techniques entail improved and more detailed scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This enables researchers to actually investigate disease through human scans rather than infecting the animals for testing. Another important alternative is the use of an autopsy on the affected and deceased patients to provide information relevant to biomedical research. While this can't replace animals completely, it does help in reducing the number of animals used. Computer models are also an extremely effective tool to simulate the response to a specific research question or experiment. While they still don't replace an entire organism, they have proved useful as a substitute for animals in certain reserved cases. The use of computer models assures that the need for live animals in laboratory experiments can be considerably reduced.
As discussed above, use of animals in research have their own bad characteristics such as ethical issues, test result reliability and the overall cost. But they have been justified by the good aspects such as saving of countless future lives, determining accurate test results of the drugs being tested and overall saving of cost in the long run. In recent years, scientists have developed many animal-friendly techniques for research. Use of non-animal testing is mainly based on refinement, reduction and replacement. There are several techniques in non-animal testing such as usage of synthetic membranes, statistical data and procedures, cell cultures, advanced scanning techniques, autopsy and computer models. While animal testing for researches cannot be completely avoided, it can be reduced and used in a more economic and ethical way. Because, after all, it is from these researches that new medicines, vaccines etc., are developed which are very much needed for quality human existence.