Can the use of animals in medical research ever be justified?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Pruce: Yes

Mainstream medical and scientific organisations around the world agree that animals are essential in scientific research and medicines development. The use of animals in research is never undertaken lightly. Every single animal research project must be approved by Home Office Inspectors who are all doctors and vets, and by local ethical review committees. Funding organisations – including medical research charities – will only fund top quality, relevant research. No one wants to use animals in research, and no one uses them unnecessarily or uncaringly. Animal research is a last resort and is used alongside other types of research.

In the last month we have seen reports of exciting research in vital areas, including research using mice that showed how the heart may be able to repair itself. Research using rats suggested that a "memory switch" could help Alzheimer's patients. A new approach to cancer vaccines has successfully treated prostate tumours in mice.

It is difficult to see how these advances could have been achieved without animal research. Even so, there are still diseases without adequate treatments – for example Alzheimer's, many cancers and heart failure. We make use of new technology wherever possible, but animals remain vital to advancing medicine.

David Pruce is the chief executive of Understanding Animal Research

Dr Katy Taylor: No

The UK carried out more than 3.6 million animal tests in 2009 yet less than 20 per cent of research is directly testing treatments for serious human diseases. Ethics aside, there are compelling scientific reasons why the practice should stop.

Claims that animal testing has, or will, lead to cures for every human ailment are powerful, but there is little scientific evidence to back them up. When scientists review the effectiveness of animal experiments over time, the results are damning. One review of 76 key animal research papers concluded that "patients and physicians should remain cautious about extrapolating the findings of prominent animal research to the care of human disease".

It is time to move on. We are still using animal methods developed in the 1940s to test the safety of ever more sophisticated biologically targeted drugs. The differences between species at these levels make it even more difficult (and dangerous) to use animals. This was never more evident than in the monoclonal drug trial disaster in which tests on monkeys at 500 times the standard dose failed to predict the monstrous effects on the human trial volunteers. Halting animal testing does not mean halting medical progress. Switching to modern, humane research will improve the quality and humanity of our science.

Dr Katy Taylor is senior scientific adviser to the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection