Interesting article on animal research…

Posted on October 24, 2011 by

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…in the Independent magazine this Saturday. Of mice and medicine: in defence of animal experiments talks to several scientists about why they use animals in research. It goes into why alternatives to studying animals don’t yet exist for all the research that scientists need to do to understand and treat disease – we are often asked “why do we still need to use animals?” and the article quotes Roger Morris, a professor at Kings giving a really clear answer:

“There is a lot you can do without animals. Most scientists who use animals do so as part of a whole portfolio of techniques, which will include work with isolated molecules and genes, building up to whole cells growing on plastic dishes in tissue culture to study the more complex integration of cells to work together as a single tissue,” he says. Some 90 per cent of his staff’s work is done with individual molecules and cells in culture.

“At all these stages, extensive use is made of computational modelling, and analyses of databases, to bring together all the information available on how the particular aspect we work on functions in a living body,” he continues. “And there are now non-invasive brain imaging techniques that tell us a lot. But real diseases are diseases of the whole body, and can only be studied in the whole body.”

It also looks at how this research is regulated and why the numbers of different animals being used has changed over recent years. And it discusses public opinion towards the use of animals in research:

…Polls consistently show that 60 per cent of the population are happy for any experiments to be done on animals. The proportion of Brits who accept animal experiments, subject to the kind of conditions now in place, is over 90 per cent. When you spend a little time with the scientists involved, you understand why.

Background

Animal research in the UK is strictly regulated, only conducted where the research is necessary and no alternative exists. The regulations demand high standards of animal welfare and include specific requirements for work to replace, reduce and refine of the use of animals.

The EU Directive governing animal research has recently been revised. The UK needs to bring our regulations in line with the revised directive by January 2013. In a debate in the Lords a couple of weeks back, the government minister Lord Henley confirmed:

I can give an absolute and categorical assurance that we will not be dropping our standards in any way whatever.

However the Home Office are still working on the detail of the how to update the UK regulations – the Home Office recently consulted on this  – AMRC responded as part of a coalition of bioscience organisations. It’s likely that new legislation will be brought before parliament for MPs and peers to scrutinise early next year.

The Lords are discussing this process this afternoon in a short debate.

Posted in: Policy