Animal Testing – ‘Standing up for Science’

June 26th, 2009  |  Published in Journal  |  13 Comments

Tipu AzizProfessor Tipu Aziz and Paul Browne PHD

Leading neurosurgeon Professor Tipu Aziz of Oxford University and Imperial College medical school provoked controversy in 2006 when he defended the use of animals in cosmetics testing. Here, Professor Aziz collaborates with Paul Browne PHD of ‘Pro-Test’ to argue the continuing necessity of animal testing in medical research.

In recent times the debate on the need to conduct research using animals has become very heated and indeed in some cases violent.  This is partly the result of lack of public understanding, which is itself a consequence of the misinformation spread by animal rights groups.

To understand the role of animal testing for the ‘New Generation’ we need only look at its successes throughout history. Animal research plays a crucial part in the development and safety testing of medicines we now take for granted. In the 1800’s animal studies were central in the development of small pox, rabies and anthrax vaccines. From 1910 to the 1930’s animal research helped to further science by aiding the development of blood transfusion and the discovery of insulin, modern anaesthetics, tetanus and diphtheria vaccines as well as anti-coagulants. Studies on mice in the 1940’s helped in the discovery of Penicillin and so introduced antibiotics to medicine. Similarly, cardiac surgery was born with the development of the heart-lung bypass, kidney dialysis was introduced and a vaccine for whooping cough was developed. The following decade saw the introduction of valvular heart surgery, cardiac pacemakers, hip replacements and drugs for elevated blood pressure. In the 1960’s we saw heart transplants, cardiac bypass grafting and vaccines against German measles and MMR.

Animal testing continues to help scientists to understand medical problems. In October 2008 three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discoveries of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and of the link between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Although their work did not directly involve the use of animals, two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, were subsequently brought to the market after extensive research and development in dogs, rabbits and cows. Studies of monkeys infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) have taught us much about how HIV infects and destroys the immune system, and are critical to the development and evaluation of vaccination strategies for HIV. Scientists also used the SIV monkey model to develop effective treatment regimes that prevent transmission of viruses from a HIV infected mother to her child during birth and the post-exposure prophylaxis that helps medical professionals to avoid infection after accidental exposure to HIV-infected blood.

Other recent developments include research on monkeys which lead to the technique of Deep Brain Stimulation of the sub-thalamic nucleus allowing the alleviation of tremors and pains of Parkinson’s patients. This is currently enabling thousands of sufferers around the world to have a higher standard of living.

You might wonder how we can learn anything about ourselves from a mouse, and yet we share over 90% of our genes with these rodents. Mice have the same organs performing the same functions in more or less the same way, and suffer from many of the same or equivalent pathologies. The opportunities brought about by genetically modified (GM) mice allow us to make them even more like us. Recently transgenic mice were even given the common cold, something previously only possible in higher animals such as primates, giving hope for new treatments to help rhinoviruses which can trigger asthma attacks, and acute attacks of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, both of which kill many people in the UK.

Animal testing has clearly brought many benefits to modern medicine. If one takes the stance that any treatment developed using animals should be refused then one could not enter a hospital, see a GP or buy drugs from the pharmacy. On the back of this long list of scientific breakthroughs it should be clear that we must see animal testing as an important way of alleviating the future suffering of the New Generation.

In Mr. Miller’s article for the ALF many suggestions for alternative non-animal based methods of scientific research are suggested. Indeed, it is often quoted that computer modelling, brain imaging, tissue cultures, and other techniques are able replace the need for animals.  This is not so since computer models cannot replace a whole body as our knowledge is still far from complete. Similarly, modern imaging can only give information about the behaviour of millions of neurones but not how individual ones work in a diseased state. Finally, tissue cultures are an inadequate replacement because they cannot replace the complex environment that is the living intact body. Instead, methods such as computer modeling and in vitro testing are not so much replacement methods as they are complementary ones, being used alongside the animal research.

Contrary to anti-research criticism, animal research is not done because it is cheap. In fact it is extremely expensive, especially since the regulating laws are so stringent. The strict regulation of animal testing in the UK means that any new projects having to pass ethics committees to ensure that the potential benefit to humans outweighs the cost to the animals involved. Behind the high welfare standards are the 3Rs; Replacement of animal methods with alternatives wherever possible, Reducing the number of animals used, and Refining our care to animals by ensuring suitable enrichment activities and training welfare staff to the highest standard. It is within this framework of regulation that any developments to animal research should be made. That is to say, the New Generation should look to develop animal testing rather than abolish it.

This list of medical discoveries illustrates the point that if animals were not used none of these therapies and so many others would not exist. The result would be that literally millions of people would not receive suitable treatment. With a lack of suitable alternatives the New Generation should use the same logic to see animal research as crucial to the development of new medicines to fight cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease as well as inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and many other life threatening or debilitating illnesses.

For more about current campaigns visit the Pro-test website.


  1. Helen says:

    June 27th, 2009 at 5:25 pm (#)

    I’m sorry, but what a load of rubbish. The only reason scientists continue to use animal testing is because they are in the pockets of the big pharmaceutical companies. These companies have forced out all alternative research because they are desperate to keep their profit margins. That’s the truth I’m afraid.

  2. karen says:

    July 2nd, 2009 at 10:39 am (#)

    Helen. trotting out the ‘pockets of big pharma’ line is way off the mark here… you have to realise that animal testing is much more expensive than any of the alternative testing methods and it is actually big pharma who spend the most on developing and validating new non-animal testing methods… and of course for big pharma the most expensive part of drug development is the clincial trials, the testing that is done on humans….

  3. Matt says:

    July 4th, 2009 at 11:28 am (#)

    As a researcher in BioMEMS I agree with Prof. Aziz and Dr Browne that the replacement technologies on offer are not anywhere near mature enough to do more than provide an initial model of drug or disease action upon which animal testing is then required to expand. Just dealing with two provided examples : the development of 3d scaffolds for tissue growth does not provide for the analysis of the effect of breakdown products on other tissues (3d-scaffolds are still being massively improved as well, they may be in production for general release, but they are far from perfect); the implantation of a chip into an organ to measure the effect of a drug requires that organ to be present inside a living body for measurements of interactions throughout the body to be made.

    As with many things though, there are two sides. A cell biologist friend who is pro-animal testing recounted the attitude of a lecturer that “they are only animals and caring about how happy they are was stupid”. Given that they are giving their lives to save ours we should ALWAYS care about how happy they are. This is aside form the fact that stressed animals may react differently to various drugs. I also do not believe that all research on animals, despite the cost and the regulations, is performed because it is essential.

    I would not however advocate for reduction in animal testing as I am not qualified to say what is and is not essential. I do think that more education in ethics AND long term (i.e. several hours per week for at least 6 months) direct exposure to living animals should be required for all researchers using animals. If nothing else it would mean they can put a living ‘face’ to the animal they are intending to kill.

  4. Richard says:

    July 4th, 2009 at 6:43 pm (#)

    Surely it’s more likely that big petshops are responsible for the animal testing conspiracy, should it exist, rather than big pharma?

    To argue against the prof one needs to attack the substantive points he makes. The ALF do not. Interesting that.

  5. Sarah says:

    July 8th, 2009 at 7:39 pm (#)

    animal testing is wrong. i can see how it has been beneficial over the years but i strongly believe animals should be treat as equals as they are no different and their lives are just as precious as a human beings.

  6. Kathy says:

    July 16th, 2009 at 5:59 am (#)

    Somebody smack aziz upside the head and wake him up.
    Mathematics are the new science, but as long as frauds like aziz continue to get away with their lies & propaganda (not to mention stealing billions of dollars from tax payers) there will never be a cure for cancer or any other disease.
    RIP. Felix, you are not forgotten.

  7. Catherine Heckford-Dickinson says:

    July 22nd, 2009 at 3:28 pm (#)

    One species is not a model for another, it never has been and never will be. Whilst certain physical characteristics may be shared mice and people, a mouse is still a mouse with the differences that make it a mouse. Chimpanzees share even more genes with us than a mouse, yet they still serve as poor comparisons for the human body.

    Professor Aziz claims that human tissues and computer models are ‘inadequate’ because they ‘cannot replace a whole body’. This does not mean however that the whole body of an animal can ever model that of a human being. As regards needing the complexity of the whole body in its entirety; the greater complexity of a whole animal body, merely serves as an environment for more variables due to species differences; hence the risk is much greater for incorrect conclusions, with potential catastrophic consequences.

    Animal results correlate with humans 5-25% percent of the time.This is worse than tossing a coin. A coincidental correlation of results (when this occurs) is NOT a basis for science and history, is testament to the fact that ‘animal studies’ are all too often dangerously misleading.

    Professor Aziz claims that progress has come due to animal research.However several medical historian argue that key discoveries came from clinical research, obeservation of patients and autopsies. These historians include the great Hans Ruesch.

    In Britain there is a ‘Safety of Medicines (Evaluation) Bill’ in Parliament.The calls for a proper comparison of animal data against data from other methods which include microdosing within humans, microfluidics chips, DNA chips along with computer modelling. Such a comparison is long overdue everywhere!

  8. lisa clark-kahn says:

    August 11th, 2009 at 6:35 pm (#)

    Go inside hell on earth,called labortories. If you still choose to defend them then god bless, thats on you.

  9. thisisabore says:

    October 29th, 2009 at 1:20 am (#)

    I see two problems with Pr. Aziz’s argumentation.

    First, he justifies the means retroactively by the results:
    ”This list of medical discoveries illustrates the point that if animals were not used none of these therapies and so many others would not exist.”
    Applied in other context, the same argument is quite disturbing. Consider someone justifying war time human experimentation by pointing out the good things that came out of it. Even if something good did come out of the horrible experiments that were made on war prisoners, it doesn’t justify doing the experiments in the first place.

    Just because something ethically questionnable leads to something positive doesn’t make it positive in itself.
    This is common fallacy.

    Secondly, I see some sort of paradox in the idea that it’s a good idea to test on, say, mice, because they are “like us” genetically (to some extent) but it’s ok to test on them because they are not like us.
    We are conveniently only keeping the aspects of other animals that relate to us and not considering other aspects that make the testing questionnable: pain, sentience, pursuit of pleasure, family behaviour etc.
    No, int this article, Pr. Aziz only keeps animals’ similarities to us that justify testing, not the similarities that would make it wrong.

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