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Animal Testing

In this series of articles, medical students from across the country will discuss a range of topics from medical ethics to the NHS to public health to medical conditions to clinical governance


What is animal testing?

Animal testing has been debated for many years. In the UK, the use of animals to test cosmetic products and ingredients is illegal, and since March 2013, it has been illegal to sell cosmetic products that contain ingredients that have been newly tested on animals. However, testing medical products on animals is still legal. There is, however, a law in place to protect animals that are tested on called the ASPA 2012. The principles of it are replacement, reduction and refinement. Replacement means that wherever possible, use a different means of testing. Reduction means using as little animals as possible to test medical products. Refinement means analysing the methods used to test the animals and the way they are kept, ensuring as little harm as possible. However, even though this law is in place, is it enough to mean that animal testing should still happen?

Contribution to life-saving cures and treatments?

One of the reasons why animal testing is still allowed is that animal testing has contributed to many life-saving cures and treatments. One of the drugs that was developed due to animal testing was penicillin. In 1928, Alexander Fleming realised that the bacterium staphylococcus bacilli would not grow on a culture medium that had mould on it, called Penicillin notatum. Several years later in 1940, penicillin was tested. 8 mice were infected with a deadly dose of 110 million streptococci bacteria. An hour later, 4 of them were injected with penicillin. These mice survived and the others died. Due to this experiment, we can now fight several bacterial infections, preventing millions of deaths, human and animal.

Unethical conditions?

However, it may be argued that the fact that those 4 mice died due to this experiment was cruel and inhumane. Those mice were infected with a disease that they wouldn’t normally contract and died as a result. On a wider scale, results of experiments may be impacted by the way the animal is being treated in some circumstances. Animals are usually placed windowless rooms and other abnormal environments for most of their lives. Video footage of animals inside laboratories show them cowering away from people as they approach their cages, which demonstrates the fear that they have. This is because they endure many procedures, such as purposely being blinded, being made to suffer seizures and have their skulls cut open so that scientists can see the effect the drug has on them. They also may see other animals being killed in front of them. Is this justified in the name of science?

Biologically similar to humans?

Animals are appropriate research subjects because they are like human beings in many ways. For example, in 2005, the chimpanzee genome was sequenced and since then, scientists have known that humans share about 99% of their DNA with chimpanzees, making them our closest living relatives. Therefore, they are good test subjects as it is likely that humans will respond in a similar way as chimps do to various drugs. However, of course, humans and chimps are not identical, so just because we share a lot of our genome with chimps, results from tests will not be completely reliable. We still need to use other animals. For example, it has been proven that domesticated dogs can understand social cues embedded in subtle human behaviour, such as eye gaze, whereas chimpanzees do not. Therefore, dogs could be used for different tests as they would respond differently to the way that chimps do. For example, dogs are used as test subjects for autism.

Alternative testing methods?

Alternative testing methods now exist that can replace the need for animals. For example, in vitro testing methods. In vitro means ‘in the glass’. This means that the testing is done outside of a living organism and it mostly involves isolated tissues, organs or cells. Some evidence exists that suggests that in-vitro studies can provide more rapid, accurate and relevant information compared to animal studies. It is more ethical and more cost effective.

The argument goes further than this, but it is important to remember that in ethical questions during MMI’s, you will not have time to demonstrate the full argument. Give a few points for and against, and make sure its well-structured.

Further Reading


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