In our society we place great importance on safety, on a daily basis we take precautions to protect ourselves from things that can harm us. We have to be sure that everything we put in our bodies, put on our bodies and just about everything that we come in contact with is as safe as possible for us. The use of animal testing has helped aid society in being sure that products are safe for humans to use; whether that be food products, cosmetics, household cleaners, or even pharmaceuticals. But in our efforts to shield ourselves and our families from harm, who or what has been hurt in the process.
Animal testing is an important component in the development of products intended for human use; however, animal testing subjects innocent animals to pain, distress and death in the process. Although animal testing is harmful and cruel to the animals being used, it is an important aspect in conducting research for products being developed for humans. The issue is whether or not the benefits of animal testing outweigh the harm done to these animal in the name of science. Hundreds of years of medical advances are due in large part to animal testing, scientists test on animals to gain as much knowledge as possible.
The knowledge gained from animal experimentation has been a vital component in so many life-saving medical breakthroughs. Supporters of animal testing believe that the benefits to humankind outweigh the costs to the animals used in the experiments. In the past this may have been a reasonable justification, but evidence for medical studies is showing that animal models are not an appropriate tool for predicting how effective the treatment will be in humans. Those against the use of animal testing can draw upon decades of evidence that shows animal models are actually harmful in some cases.
The animal model results are used to create drugs and therapies for humans when in fact the results cannot be translated from animals to humans, and those patients are actually harmed in the process. In the future, scientists hope to develop technologies that can replicate the human system so that using animal models will become unnecessary. Humans have been conducting tests on animals for thousands of years, animals are used as test subjects for many reasons, they are easy to acquire, fairly easy to work with, and the knowledge gained from the experiments plays an important role in the scientific community.
Animals have been used to test just about everything for human consumption and use. Being able to test things first on animals is an important part of the development process for things that we use such as cosmetics, cleaners, detergents, just about everything we come into contact with daily. Most importantly animal testing plays a vital role in the scientific community and the medical field in the development of drugs and treatments.
The primary reason animals ar unethical to test on humans, “Animal models have been essential in cancer research for obvious practical and ethical concerns associated with human experimentation” (2). Animal testing is a significant component of medical research, scientists practice new drugs and technologies on animals before they are tested on humans. However, for decades people have been asking if all the damage we are doing to these poor animals is really worth the benefits we are receiving, many people would say it is unethical and all animal testing should be stopped.
The belief that animal testing is unethical and in many cases unnecessary is not a new idea, “In 1959, William Russell and Rex Burch published the seminal book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, which emphasized reduction, refinement, and replacement of animal use, principles which have since been referred to as the “3 Rs” (1)”. Over the past few decades more and more companies have begun to limit the amount of testing they perform on animals; for example, many cosmetic brands now advertise that they do not test on animals right on the bottle.
However, animal testing is still a prominent method in the medical field for testing everything from pharmaceuticals to cutting edge therapies, and invasive procedures. Although these testing practices have been conducted for hundreds of years, evidence shows that results from animal models does not always apply to humans. Many studies have found that pre-clinical animal trials do not lead to successful treatments for humans. People who oppose using animals for testing find that the results gathered from animals do not successfully translate to humans effectively enough.
In addition, “experimenting on tissues generally requires whole animals or freshly dissected body parts. Such experiments are costly and often unreliable, and can raise ethical issues” (2). There is overwhelming evidence that shows that testing on animals is by far not the best solution, scientists are working hard on new technologies to make animal testing unnecessary. It is difficult to quantify the amount of knowledge that has been gained by the use of animals for testing purposes, but recent evidence shows that animal models are not as effective as once thought.
If the results of animal testing do not contribute knowledge that can be directly applied to treatments for human, than is it truly necessary? Additionally, scientists have found that animals experience more pain and sense of distress than we once thought, “suggesting that animals’ potential for experiencing harm is greater than has been appreciated and that current protections need to be reconsidered “(1). Not only does the evidence overwhelmingly suggest that animal testing is far less useful than once thought, but it also shows that animals feel more pain than previously believed as well.
Not only does animal testing hurt the animals, but it rarely contributes applicable knowledge for human treatments. A large amount of research points to two conclusions, animal models do not effectively lead to human treatments, and the animals being used are experiencing more pain and trauma than we know. So why is this still such a common practice? Promising alternatives to animal testing are currently being used on a small scale and new ones are being developed and introduced all the time.
Many organizations are pushing for alternatives to the typical animal testing that has been so commonly used. The simple solution would be to test on humans and human tissues, now obviously there are many things that could not be tested on live human subjects because of safety issues, but many things can be tested on humans. Humans can be used to test medications in very small doses in order for scientists to be able to gather knowledge about the effects of that drug in humans. These people volunteer to be subjects, unlike animals, who do not give consent and have no choice in the matter.
Additionally, humans can be used to study brain function using fMRI machines gathering a plethora of information on brain structure and function without harming animals in the process. These volunteers are typically compensated for their participation, which adds to the costs, and there is obviously some risk associated for the test subjects, but there are many benefits as well. With human subjects the researchers are able to communicate with them and gather data by asking questions, this is not possible with animal subjects.
Testing on humans in a very controlled experiment, where the subjects can be closely monitored, is a great alternative to testing on animals. More technologically advanced alternative methods of testing include testing on human cells and tissues on a chip, and using computer models. Human cells and tissues are already being used by many companies to test everything from drugs to cosmetics, “A variety of cell-based tests and tissue models can be used to assess the safety of drugs, chemicals, cosmetics, and consumer products” (3).
This technology is not cheap and it is complicated to create and use effectively unless the scientist is trained on the technique. Mainstream use of these chips is not currently feasible, they are expensive, delicate, and difficult to use for inexperienced scientists. In addition to the cost of the product itself, it is also risky to build these chips and then ship them for use because they are so delicate and may not withstand transport. The benefits these chips could bring to society are tremendous, they would enable scientists to be able to test on actual human tissue, all while saving animals from the horrors of animal testing.
The hope is that these chips can be a vital component of research and testing in the future, “Organs on chips are still very much a work in progress, but advances in culturing cells and manufacturing nanomaterials mean that they could eventually supplement or supplant animal studies “(2). In addition to using human tissues on chips, more and more testing can be done with computers. Researchers are able to mimic the human system with computer programs and are able to predict how certain treatments will work in an actual human using computer programs.
Like most research, these studies cost money to perform in addition to the cost of the computers and paying highly skilled individuals to develop these programs. There is also some risk with these computer programs such as experimental error with the programs that could lead to unusable results. Once again, if this technology could be perfected and implemented as a primary vessel for testing purposes it would eliminated the need for animal models, saving animals lives and creating life changing medications of humans everywhere.
Studies show that these models can accurately predict the ways that new drugs will react in the human body and replace the use of animals in exploratory research and many standard drug tests There is currently no perfect alternative for testing treatments, medications, or even cosmetics for human use, but animal testing is not the answer either. Scientists need to be given support and the resources they need to develop an alternative to animal testing, and there is hope that in the not so distant future animals will no longer be used; not only saving innocent lives but also creating more effective treatments.
Studies show that these “organs on a chip” are a promising alternative to animal testing, since actual human tissue is used the results are far more reliable than results gathered from animal models. These chips have been used to research disease, test drug treatments, study toxicity and since human cells are used the chips are able to replicate human organs and human physiology much more effectively than if animals had been used. If this system could be perfected and made readily available to labs and research centers all over the world the need for animal models would be eliminated.