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Why Animal Models are Essential to Biological Research
The recent rejection of the Stop Vivisection Initiative by the European Commission was a controversial decision. The recent article by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Xavier Montagutelli, originally published in Future Science, covers a range of interesting viewpoints on the topic. Titled “Animal Models are Essential to Biological Research: Issues and Perspectives”, it’s well worth reading in its entirety here. We’re going to cover some of its points in this blog post.
Tests on animals are conducted primarily because of the similarities between humans and rodents. We share 95% of our genes with mice, and they are susceptible to many of the same diseases that humans suffer from. This is why rodents are vital to research on cancer, infectious viruses like AIDS and Ebola, and other conditions like hypertension.
As it stands, in vitro testing has allowed for a drastic reduction in animal testing, as cells and molecules can now be examined using models. However, when it comes to assessing interactions between organs, or the behaviour of microorganisms (to use just two examples), there is no current substitute for in vivo testing.
Animal testing has enabled numerous medical breakthroughs that would not have been possible otherwise. As stated in the article, insulin was developed in 1912 with the help of testing on dogs, and the Ebola vaccine currently being tested was initially trialled on mice.
An outline of what mice have achieved in medicine so far. (source)
There are, of course, differences between humans and animals on a genetic level. Many regard this as a reason to stop testing on animals, as drugs need to be tested on humans after the initial pre-clinical stage anyway. As Barré-Sinoussi and Montagutelli point out, these differences actually offer more incentive to not only explore the variations further, but also use those differences in experimental designs and interpretations.
The biggest concern behind the drive to stop vivisection is animal welfare. Many questions are raised by the topic, and the recent controversy over the beagle breeding facility scheduled to be built in the UK shows just how emotive the issue is for the public. However, Europe operates under one of the strictest regulatory frameworks in the world with regards to animal testing. It centres on the 3Rs: the principles of reduction, replacement, and refinement. Facilities that conduct in vivo tests are strictly monitored and have to comply with various licensing and training requirements. Equipment like ActualHCA, designed with the 3Rs in mind, offers considerable assistance to testing facilities looking to improve their 3Rs compliance.
As the article puts it, “Animal models must be constantly improved to be more reliable and informative. Likewise, animal protection requires permanent consideration. These two objectives, far from being antagonistic, must be anchored in high-quality science.” Right now, we know that animal research is essential in many areas and considerable work has gone and will continue to go into making the process as humane as possible.