diseases anddeveloping ways to prevent them. The polio vaccine, kidney transplants, and
heart surgery techniques have all been developed with the help of animal
research. Through increased efforts by the scientific community, effective
treatments for diabetes, diphtheria, and other diseases have been developed
with animal testing.
Animal research has brought a dramatic progress into medicine. With
the help of animal research, smallpox has been wiped out worldwide.
Microsurgery to reattach hearts, lungs, and other transplants are all
possible because of animal research. Since the turn of the century, animal
research has helped increase our life span by nearly 28 years. And now,
animal research is leading to dramatic progress against AIDS and
Working with animals in research is necessary. Scientists need to test
medical treatments for effectiveness and test new drugs for safety before
beginning human testing. Small animals, usually rats, are used to determine
the possible side effects of new drugs. After animal tests have proven the
safety of new drugs, patients asked to participate in further studies can
be assured that they may fare better, and will not do worse than if they
were given standard treatment or no treatment.
New surgical techniques first must be carefully developed and tested
in living, breathing, whole organ systems with pulmonary and circulatory
systems much like ours. The doctors who perform today’s delicate cardiac,
ear, eye, pulmonary and brain surgeries, as well as doctors in training,
must develop the necessary skills before patients’ lives are entrusted to
their care. Neither computer models, cell cultures, nor artificial
substances can simulate flesh, muscle, blood, and organs like the ones in
There is no alternative to animal research. Living systems are
complex. The nervous system, blood and brain chemistry, and gland
secretions are all interrelated. It is impossible to explore, explain or
predict the course of many diseases or the effects of many treatments
without observing and testing the entire living system.
Cell and tissue cultures, often suggested as “alternatives” to using
animals, have been used in medical research for many years. But these are
only isolated tests. And isolated tests will yield only isolated results,
which may bear little relation to a whole living system. Scientists do not
yet know enough about living systems or diseases, nor does the technology
exist, to replicate one on a computer. The information required to build a
true computer model in the future will be based on data drawn from today’s
Most people automatically picture primates as the stereotypical
research subject. In actuality, primates represent less than one percent of
animals in research. But during the last half century, research using
primates has led to major medical breakthroughs. Vaccines created with the
knowledge of animal testing have dramatically reduced cases of polio in the
US. Scientists are also learning how HIV works by studying its non-human
primate counterpart, the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) in monkeys.
This may prove very useful in testing an AIDS vaccine. Another problem in
the health of people today is the complexity of obesity and its causes.
Researchers are studying obesity in monkeys in hopes of finding a way to
control body weight, and to see whether reduced caloric intake can slow the
rate of aging. This effect has already been observed in lower animals, and
if it holds true in primates, it would be a strong indication that humans
might be able to increase their life spans by eating less.
As another example, primates have the same number and relative size of
teeth as humans. Macaque monkeys have been studied by dental researchers to
link a specific bacterium to the growth of periodontitis, which affects 75
percent of all adults and causes 70 percent of adult tooth loss. Thanks to
testing drugs used in these studies have shown to be effective in halting
the progression of periodontal disease.
Lastly in the list of scientific research breakthroughs, since the
1920s, scientists have studied primates in order to understand their
ability to communicate. They have discovered that chimpanzees and other
apes have the ability to learn and use language. Scientists already have
applied their findings toward developing a special language for severely
mentally retarded children, as well as young adults with little or no
linguistic competence, who cannot learn language as normal children do.
People should ensure that an end is not put to progress in animal
research. Biomedical researchers know that an animal in distress is simply
not a good research subject. Researchers are embarked on an effort to
alleviate misery, not cause it. And remember, if we want to defeat the
killer diseases that still confront us, such as AIDS and Alzheimer’s,
cancer, heart disease, and many others, the misguided fanatics of the
animal-rights movement need to be reeducated.