Why do scientific research in animals?

Animals provide living bodies which help scientists understand how diseases and treatments work.

Many people suffer from diseases for which there are currently very few effective medicines, or only medicines that cause serious side-effects. Cancer is an example. There are many medicines available to patients but many more are still needed because there are so many different types of cancer. Also, while some people respond well to current treatments, others do not and need different treatments.

This means that there are millions of people who want new and better medicines.

Developing a new medicine

diagram of a moleculeScientists who want to develop new treatments use a number of different methods. They may start by using a computer to design a new molecule. Alternatively, they may test the thousands of chemicals already available; extract chemicals from natural products; or make human proteins by genetic engineering.

After making the molecule and investigating how it works and what it does to cells in a test tube, scientists then look at what it does in a real live body.

The whole body versus the cell

blue_pillsA complete living body is very different to conditions found inside cells in a test tube.

For example, a medicine might work well on cells in the laboratory but when it is given to a human, it might be destroyed by the digestive system before it reaches the sick part of the body. Only animal experiments will discover this sort of problem. Next, safety tests are carried, to see if the medicine causes any unexpected reactions such as a skin rash or organ failure. Animal testing also helps researchers to work out which dose to use in humans.

All new medicines are tested on animals

A new medicine is tested in an animal to see if it does what it is supposed to do. The new medicine is given to humans in clinical trials only after it has gone through these tests in animals.

Without animals the only other means of testing a new medicine would be to trial it directly in human beings. This would put humans at considerable risk. Few people or researchers would wish to take such a high risk.

picture of a patient given an injection

Did you know?

Testing of new cosmetics in animals is banned in the UK.

Did you know?

Millions of people take medicines called statins to lower levels of cholesterol in their blood. This helps prevent heart attacks. Animals were essential to the discovery of statins.

Did you know?

Three certificates must be issued by the Home Office for researchers to do animal based research: one for the laboratory; one for the person in charge; and one for the person doing the experiment.

Pro-Test What is Pro-Test's opinion on the use of animals in medical research? FRAME What is FRAME's opinion on the use of animals in medical research? About Animal Testing Find out more about research in animals.