Royal Society publishes guide backing animal research in UK

27 February 2005

People have benefited immensely from scientific research involving animals, with virtually every medical achievement in the past century reliant on the use of animals in some way, according to a guide published today (27 February 2004) by the Royal Society, the UK national academy of science today.

The use of non-human animals in research: a guide for scientists is a guide offering a way for researchers, and interested members of the public, to gain an insight into the essential role research on animals plays in scientific understanding and medical advances, and the regulations governing it.

The guide describes how developments in the treatment of diabetes, leukaemia and heart surgery, amongst others, have been made possible through the use of animals in medical research. It also indicates that animal testing has a key role to play in developing safe, effective vaccines in the future for diseases like AIDS and malaria, which kill millions of people each year, mostly in the developing world.

It also highlights the stringent regulations governing animal research in the UK and the importance for all researchers who propose to undertake laboratory or field work involving animals to give full consideration to ’the three Rs’. This means that every effort must be made to refine the procedures so that the degree of suffering is kept to the minimum; reduce the number of animals used in research to the minimum required for meaningful results; and replace the use of live animals by non animal alternatives when appropriate.

Professor Clive Page, a member of the Royal Society Animals in Research Committee, said: "Life-saving medical advances, from the polio vaccine to kidney dialysis, have been made possible only because of the use of animals in research. The Royal Society believes that the benefits to both human and veterinary medicine justify the use of animals in scientific research. However, we also recognise that special ethical considerations are involved with the use of animals and that research should only be conducted with the greatest care. The current UK regulations are among the most rigorous in the world."

The guide also explores the limitations of alternative, non-animal research methods. It points out that while it is true that non-animal research methods, such as tissue culture and computer modelling, can be useful in some aspects of medical and scientific research, this does not mean, as opponents suggest, that animal research should stop. Instead, scientific research, and medical research in particular, often depend on understanding not only the processes of the living body, but also on how they interact. It is unethical and illegal to expose human patients to new medicines without being confident that they are likely to benefit and not be seriously harmed, the guide warns.

Commenting on the guide, Vicky Cowell, Director of Seriously Ill for Medical Research, said: "Patients suffering from serious, and often incurable, life-threatening conditions depend on medical research to help develop new drug treatments and therapies. Often these involve the use of animals. Until safe and reliable alternative methods are developed, animals will be a necessity for these advances. Millions of people are alive today thanks to medical research involving animals. This informative guide highlights many of these important developments."

Also supporting the guide, Professor Nancy Rothwell, Chair of the Biosciences Federation Animal Science Group, said: "This is an excellent summary of the need and the enormous benefit animals have brought to human health, and while scientists are as reluctant as anyone else to use animals, the guide highlights why they will be needed for the foreseeable future."

For further information contact:

Press Office

The Royal Society

tel: 020 7451 2516 or 07811 320346