Which fields of research and testing use animals?
Animal experimentation is used in several areas of biological and medical research and product safety testing. Using the statistics for 2003 , (figures from RDS Online) , it is possible to break down types of animal procedure as follows:
Breeding of laboratory animals and genetic studies
Applied research such as developing new treatments for diseases, or ways of preventing diseases
Pure biological and medical research
Safety testing of non-medical products used in the household, agriculture and industry
Developing new methods of diagnosis
What alternatives are there to animal research?
There are three main areas where biological and medical investigation without using animals can be carried out:
- 'in vitro' techniques, involving the study of isolated molecules, cells and tissues (which may come from humans, other animals, micro-organisms or even plants). This gives useful information about interactions between molecules, within or between cells, or about organ function.
- 'in silico' techniques, involving computer modelling. This can make useful predictions about trends, or prognoses. The use of computers and other high tech equipment can improve the efficiency of animal, non-animal or human research techniques.
- study of human beings and populations - epidemiology. Research on human subjects can give very useful information about the body in health and disease, and about the distribution of diseases in society, but is limited by what is considered ethical.
These techniques are used wherever possible, for instance, computers and chemical techniques can screen out harmful or useless compounds before they ever get to the animal testing stage. However, the information they give can be limited and they cannot be used as sole alternatives to animal testing. For example cell cultures in vitro provide useful information but they are too short lived to give guaranteed results. In general all the methods in use today - animal and non-animal - are used to complement one another.