What is animal experimentation?

Animal experimentation is the use of animals in scientific research.

Animal experiments help scientists understand diseases that afflict animals and humans. Scientists also use animal experiments to test new treatments for human and animal diseases, for example new medicines or new surgical techniques. Finally, some animal experiments help scientists understand the basic biology of animals.

Animals get similar diseases to humans and these sick animals can be used in experiments. Animals can also be treated in certain ways or be bred so that they develop certain diseases. For example, if cancer cells grown in the laboratory are injected into mice, the mice develop cancer.

To help a scientist understand multiple sclerosis (MS), an animal may be moderately paralysed. This is temporary and will wear off after the experiment. The researcher then watches the animal to see how the disease affects its movements around the cage. This helps scientists to understand how MS affects people and how to treat them.

Picture of a syringe

Sometimes, blood samples are taken from the animals to measure substances and reactions in the body.

An animal with a disease can be used to test new medicines. The scientists want to find out if the new treatment works and if it has any side effects. Sometimes, blood samples are taken to measure substances and reactions in the body. Other animals may be used to try out new surgical techniques, for instance those used in transplanting organs.

Looking after research animals

Picture of a white rat in a laboratory

Scientists, technicians and vets ensure that research animals are well looked after.

Scientists do not want to hurt animals and they must do their best to minimise any pain. An animal which is being used in research usually experiences only mild pain, such as when a scientist uses a needle to take a blood sample. If it is likely that the animal will suffer any more pain than this, then the distress must be minimised. If the distress cannot be stopped then the law requires that the animal is immediately and painlessly killed.

There are laws to ensure that animals used in research are always kept in clean, airy conditions with plenty of room to move around. Trained technicians look after the animals and a vet is always on call.