Animal Experimentation Is Vital for Medical Research

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Editor: Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.
Date: 2009
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: At Issue
Document Type: Viewpoint essay
Length: 2,002 words
Content Level: (Level 5)
Lexile Measure: 1360L

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Foundation for Biomedical Research, Proud Achievements of Animal Research. Washington, DC: Foundation for Biomedical Research, 2008. © 2008 Foundation for Biomedical Research. Reproduced by permission.

The Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR) is the nation's oldest organization dedicated to improving human and veterinary health by promoting public understanding and support for humane animal research

Animal experimentation has played—and continues to play—a vital role in scientific research. Because there are so many similarities between human and animal physiology, experimentation has allowed scientists to discover new treatments for diseases and guarantee the safety of new drugs. Furthermore, while animal rights extremists have attempted to discount the importance of this research, many scientists and medical societies support it. Animal research has provided the basis for numerous medical innovations, including vaccines, organ transplants, and pacemakers. Whether one focuses on strokes, childhood cancer, or AIDS, animal experimentation has led to improved human health and longevity.

From the discovery of antibiotics, analgesics, antidepressants, and anesthetics, to the successful development of organ transplants, bypass surgery, heart catheterization, and joint replacement—practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, control, cure of disease and relief of pain is based on knowledge attained—directly or indirectly—through research with animals.

Animal [rights] extremists often claim that the results of animal studies can't be applied to human health. However, physicians and researchers overwhelmingly agree that animal systems provide invaluable and irreplaceable insights into human systems because there are striking similarities between the physiological and genetic systems of animals and humans. Since the dawn of medical science, insights drawn from studies with lab animals have been critically important in the design and proper interpretation of human studies. Indeed, studies of human populations and clinical cases could not be interpreted without the basic scientific understanding that came from centuries of research with animals. There is also a legal requirement to test drugs, medical devices, and other promising treatments on animals before they are administered to humans.

The essential need for animal research is recognized and supported by scientists, medical societies, and health agencies around the world. Further proof of its validity can be found in the vast body of Nobel Prize-winning work in physiology and medicine that has been achieved with animal models ranging from fruit flies to zebrafish.

Preventing Disease

In 2006, infant mortality in the USA—a key indicator of the nation's health—was measured at fewer than seven deaths per 1,000 live births compared to 47 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1940. Much of this progress came from knowledge gained through animal research.

Many diseases that once killed millions of people every year are now either preventable, treatable or have been eradicated altogether. Immunizations against polio, diphtheria, mumps, rubella and hepatitis have saved countless lives. Without animal research, these vaccines would not exist. The survival rates for many other major diseases are at an all time high thanks to the discovery of powerful new drugs, the development of new surgical procedures and the design of sophisticated medical devices.

Pacemakers, artificial joints, organ transplants and freedom from arthritic pain are just a few of the breakthroughs made in veterinary medicine thanks to animal research. Dogs, cats, sheep, and cattle also are living longer and healthier lives thanks to vaccines for rabies, distemper, parvo virus (infectious diarrhea), infectious hepatitis, anthrax, tetanus and feline leukemia. And new treatments for glaucoma, heart disease, cancer, hip dysplasia and traumatic injuries are saving, extending and enhancing the lives of beloved companion animals while advanced reproductive techniques are helping to preserve and protect threatened species.

Animal Research Achievements

The following list represents a brief chronicle of the dramatic progress in recent years that has been made in the prevention and treatment of a myriad of diseases. In every case, critical steps in the basic understanding of the disease and knowledge of how to combat it came from animal-based research.

Between 1950 and 2004, U.S. deaths from stroke and heart disease fell by 72 percent and 63 percent, respectively;

Between 1974 and 2001, the overall U.S. five-year survival rate for childhood cancers increased by 29 percent;

Between 1995 and 2005, AIDS-related deaths in the U.S. fell by 70 percent;

Safe and effective vaccines have been developed to control the following common diseases, once regarded as "killers": polio, measles, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), rubella, mumps, tetanus, influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia.

More than 400 million children under the age of five years were immunized against polio during mass vaccination campaigns in 2007. Almost 2 billion doses of vaccine were administered to children in 47 polio-affected and high risk countries. Poliovirus, the causative agent of paralytic poliomyelitis, essentially has been wiped out in North America. Since the World Health Organization (WHO) polio eradication program began in 1988, only four of 125 countries remain endemic for polio—the smallest number in the history of this crippling disease.

A widely prescribed class of drugs known as "statins" can block plaque buildup in arterial walls and reduce the incidence of heart attacks. Newer "statins" with improved efficacy show beneficial secondary effects in the treatment of coronary heart disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis and Alzheimer's disease.

The accumulation of beta amyloid containing plaques in the brain correlates with the onset and progression of Alzheimer's disease (AD), a disorder characterized by progressive loss of memory and dementia. Researchers are attempting to develop a vaccine that can help the brain destroy plaques and lower their production. New cognitive-enhancing drugs that slow memory decline also are becoming available.

Dramatic improvement in the treatment regimens with novel anti-cancer drugs permits 90.4 percent of American children suffering from acute lymphocytic leukemia to remain in remission for at least five years. These long-term survivors often go on to lead normal lives.

More than 100 million vaccine doses of influenza virus strains are produced annually for the U.S. to prevent outbreaks and reduce the impact of this disease on the national population. Certain strains of influenza can have serious consequences, even death, for high-risk persons, especially children and the elderly.

[Thanks to animal research] many different anti-HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) drugs approved for human use have led to dramatic declines in AIDS-related diseases and deaths.

Thousands of people, particularly young men, suffer acute spinal cord injuries each year as a result of accidents. Scientists are now finding potential new spinal cord therapies to spur neurons to grow and create new connections, enabling recovery of sensations and motor functions. Eventually, paralysis may be reversed.

More than 350 million people around the world are chronic carriers of hepatitis B. This virus can cause long-term, chronic illness that leads to cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and death. Hepatitis B virus infections can be prevented by vaccination and controlled by precautionary treatments.

Recent advances in the development of a vaccine for Ebola virus offer hope of controlling this gruesome disease, characterized by hemorrhagic fever, which is almost always fatal.

Some 20.8 million Americans live with (juvenile and adult onset) diabetes. Nearly six million depend on a daily treatment with insulin to control blood sugar. A new array of non-invasive devices to monitor glucose levels, and new needle-free systems to deliver insulin, such as skin patches, sprays, and inhalers, are making life easier for those who live with diabetes. Islet cell transplants hold out hope for a cure of the disease.

Many different anti-HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) drugs approved for human use have led to dramatic declines in AIDS-related diseases and deaths. Newly developed vaccines that protect monkeys from simian AIDS are being tested in clinical trials, giving rise to the hope that a safe and effective human AIDS vaccine will be found to control the virus infection.

Levodopa (L-dopa) provides initial relief from (uncontrolled) tremors in patients suffering the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson's disease. In the long-term, some victims may benefit from the implantation of an electronic stimulator in the region of the brain that controls body movements.

Smallpox was eradicated several years ago through worldwide vaccination. Mass vaccination could resume immediately should this deadly virus ever be used by terrorists as a biological weapon.

As many as two million Americans suffering with bipolar disorder (manic-depression) and schizophrenia no longer have to be institutionalized and can instead function normally, thanks to a variety of new, long-acting anti-psychotic drug therapies.

Amblyopia, or "lazy eye," is a serious visual impairment resulting from inadequate eye use in early childhood. It affects up to three percent of the general population and can lead to blindness if not treated in its early stages. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be required to restore proper vision.

Each year renal dialysis, a procedure that removes toxic waste products from the blood stream, extends the lives of more than 300,000 patients with end-stage kidney failure.

Carefully planned treatment regimens with anti-epileptic drugs can control up to 70 percent of recurrent seizures in the 3 million children and adults living with epilepsy.

Malaria is a chronic, sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. A new generation of drugs has been developed to fight the most severe forms of this disease, which can kill up to two million people each year. New anti-malarial agents have been developed to protect military personnel and other travelers in malaria-endemic areas.

Drugs that effectively shrink cancerous tumors (anti-angiogenesis) by cutting off their blood supply are being used to treat lymphomas and other discrete types of cancers.

The lives of thousands of kidney, liver and heart transplant recipients were prolonged and enhanced thanks to surgical advances and the development of effective immunosuppressive drugs that prevent organ rejection.

Fast-acting medications have significantly reduced the risk of death of patients suffering from heart attacks, asthma, and other allergenic diseases.

Improvements in antibiotic therapy have helped extend the lives and improve the lung function of some 30,000 young people with cystic fibrosis, a deadly congestive lung disease.

Artificial blood substitutes are being developed for transfusions to save the lives of trauma patients in emergencies as well as those undergoing lengthy, complex surgical procedures.

Between 70 and 85 percent of the 5.5 million stroke survivors in the USA have no permanent disability thanks to the discovery of anti-coagulants and thrombolytic agents that prevent and dissolve potentially fatal blood clots.

Almost 38 million Americans should take a wide variety of new cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent plaque buildup and reduce the incidence of heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

From the rapidly growing field of biotechnology, DNA recombination made possible the sequencing of the human genome and laid the field for the new fields of nanomedicine and individualized therapy.

As human genes and their functions are identified, the relatively new technique of gene transfer offers a new strategy for treating diseases of genetic origin. The procedure involves inserting a normal gene to replace an "abnormal gene" in a target cell. Scientists are in the early stages of applying this method to treat such diseases as Huntington's chorea, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and certain types of cancer. The ultimate goal of Human Genome Project research is to characterize all human genetic material (DNA) to understand the working of biological systems.

[Because of animal research] new surgical techniques to repair heart defects are being developed.

Teams of scientists are now identifying the therapeutic potential for transplanting both embryonic and adult stem cells for a wide range of therapies in such devastating diseases as cancer, Alzhiemer's and Parkinson's disease.

Advanced Surgical Interventions

Open heart surgery—coronary artery bypass, valve replacement and repair of congenital defects—is becoming common practice. In many cases, patients can return to normal daily activities.

Most of the 400,000 patients who undergo successful hip and knee replacements each year no longer face confinement in wheelchairs and experience less pain when walking.

New surgical techniques to repair heart defects are being developed to help the approximately 40,000 infants who are born with congenital abnormalities each year.

Thanks to recent advances in ophthalmologic surgery, more than 1.5 million Americans undergo cataract removal in a simple out-patient procedure that prevents vision loss.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|EJ3010002245