Animals are used for science globally in countless ways!
Dr. Ray Greek is an anesthesiologist, and has authored and co-authored numerous books on the topic of animal experimentation. Dr Greek has created an easy-to-follow explanation of the nine main ways animals are involved in scientific studies.1
(1) and (2) are not scientifically valid and never have been.
(3) to (9) are scientifically viable. But, this doesn’t mean that they are the best scientific method or that they should continue being used. There are now viable animal-free or more ethical methods available that should be used instead.
3. Animals are used as “spare parts”, such as when organs, tissues, or cells from animals are transplanted into humans (i.e., xenotransplantation).
This has worked successfully in the past in some cases (i.e., transplanting pig heart valves into humans has worked before). But now, there are synthetic versions of heart valves that are being used and further developed.
More complicated transplants have not worked, i.e., two humans have received pig heart transplants and both failed after a matter of days. For one of these organ recipients, postmortem findings discovered that a pig virus was present in some of their blood cells (the risk of spreading or creating zoonotic diseases is another downside of xenotransplantation). The main reason of failure here is because the immune system of humans detects the pig heart as foreign and rejects them. Artificial organs are now being developed which are ethically sourced, fully biocompatible with a reduced risk of rejection, and carry no risk of infections from other species. Learn more about xenotransplantation here.
4. Animals are used as bioreactors or factories, such as for the production of insulin, antibodies, or to maintain the supply of a virus.
It is possible to harvest insulin from a slaughterhouse animal but today we have much better synthetically produced insulin with animal-free technology.
5. Animals and animal tissues are used to study basic physiological principles.
Animals have been used to find and then demonstrate ‘basic principles’ of anatomy. For example, all mammalian hearts pump blood.
6. Animals are used in education to educate and train medical students and to teach basic principles of anatomy in high school biology classes.
In the past it has been possible to practice certain techniques on animals to a greater or lesser extent, for example surgical residents could be taught technical skills like how to sew a vein to an artery by practicing on a vein from or in a dog (the skill can be taught, at least in part in this way). Today we have sophisticated human-based models that can really provide a realistic situation for medical students.
7. Animals are used as a tool for scientists to come up with new ideas or as a way to figure things out in basic science research.
Basic science research can be distinguished as being curiosity-driven rather than goal driven (applied research), for example looking at the tissue or cells from animals to find out what they are and what they are made of. Often researchers will try and relate these findings back to humans, sometimes they apply and sometimes they don't!
8. Animals are used in research designed to benefit other animals of the same species or breed.
Animals can be used in research for animal diseases and drugs used in veterinary medicine (i.e. species-specific and even breed specific research).
9. Animals are sometimes used in research just to learn and understand more about things, without a specific goal other than gaining knowledge.
A researcher could conduct a highly invasive experiment on animals, not with the goal in mind of obtaining useful information, but just to obtain information regardless of whether or not it will be used for anything.
At NZAVS, our aim isn't to end all uses of animals for science in NZ. Our goal is to stop all animal experimentation and harmful use of animals for science. For example, researchers might observe animals in their natural habitat to learn more about them - this is scientific research that we are in favour of!
As NZAVS is evidence based, we only support the use of animals for science when it is ethical and scientifically viable. In other words, when it is non-harmful and the results are usable.