Frequently Asked Questions about Animal Use in Science
Animals have made very valuable contributions to a wide variety of University of Saskatchewan research and teaching programs which save lives, advance animal and human health, and protect the environment.
The use of animals for research, teaching and testing is a privilege, one that comes with important responsibilities:
- to ensure that good science is done
- to meet our ethical responsibilities for ensuring that every animal is treated humanely and not subjected to unnecessary pain or distress, and
- to work within the accepted standards for experimental animal care and use.
The University of Saskatchewan is committed to ensuring that all animal care and use is conducted with exemplary standards in keeping with national standards set down by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The U of S holds the CCAC Certificate of Good Animal Practice, indicating that it is in compliance with CCAC national standards.
The University of Saskatchewan also follows the University Policy on Care and Use of Animals in Research and the Tri-Council MOU - Schedule 3: Ethical Review of Research Involving Animals. All research, teaching or testing that involves animal subjects or the use of animal tissue requires ethics review and approval by the Animal Research Ethics Board.
Why is biomedical research done?
Who does research with animals?
Why are animals used—is their use necessary?
Why not use humans instead?
How has animal research helped humans and other animals?
Can alternative research methods replace animals in research?
What other methods are used in addition to animals in research?
What kinds of animals are used?
Where do the animals come from?
How are animals kept and cared for in research laboratories?
What happens to animals once an experiment is completed?
What rules and regulations govern the care and treatment of animals in laboratories?
How can research results derived from animal testing be extrapolated to humans?
Do animals used in research experience pain and stress?
How many animals are used in research?
Biomedical research is done to improve the quality of life and health for both humans and animals and to reduce suffering through improved methods of preventing disease and development of new treatments, techniques and technologies. This research benefits society in general by improving the health of people, the health of our companion animals, the health and well-being of food producing animals, and the well-being of wildlife and the environment.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the average life expectancy for human beings has increased from 47 to 77 years. While changes in our lifestyle such as improved nutrition, general sanitation practices, proper exercise, and reduction in smoking have played a part, this dramatic increase in life expectancy is largely due to advances in health care as a result of medical research. These amazing advances have depended heavily on the research that involved the use of animals.
Most biomedical research is conducted by scientists in universities, at their medical, veterinary and agricultural schools. A number of other institutes and organizations conduct biomedical research, too. Research in some federal and provincial government agencies also involves animal use, and private companies—pharmaceutical, biotechnology and agricultural—may also use animals in their research and development programs.
Veterinarians are an integral part of the biomedical research effort, specializing in laboratory animal medicine to help ensure a high standard of research animal welfare, care and use. Skilled laboratory animal technologists and technicians not only assist veterinarians but also provide care and treatment of the animals.
Trained animal care technicians are an essential component of all research laboratories which use animals. These skilled and caring individuals are responsible for daily monitoring of the research animals and for providing the daily care of the animals and the facilities in which they are housed.
Almost all the research leading to medical advances and discoveries of the past century involved some animal use. Development of vaccines for preventing diseases such as smallpox and polio and discovery of anaesthesia and drugs such as aspirin and insulin all involved animal use. Animals are often the most valuable way to study the effects of how organ systems in the body (for example, the nervous system) interact with each other (for example, the immune system or the endocrine system), or to learn about all side effects that might occur with a treatment (effects on respiration, kidney function, or heart rate). Thus the use of animals is considered very valuable for these developments.
Most people would say it is unethical to use human beings as the initial experimental subjects for many types of basic research (especially those requiring invasive procedures).
Humans are recruited to participate in medical research through studies called “clinical trials.” Some animals may also participate in veterinary clinical trials with their owners’ consent. In the research path to the discovery of, for example, a better treatment for hypertension, some studies might be done in cell or tissue culture, then in animals, and ultimately in humans. Such clinical trials are very carefully regulated.
This is a brief list of medical advances that were made possible through animal research:
- Antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial infections (starting with the discovery of penicillin in the 1930s)
- Vaccines for smallpox, tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, Lyme disease, hepatitis B and chicken pox
- Insulin to control diabetes
- Safe anaesthesia drugs
- A wide array of excellent pain-relieving drugs
- Chemotherapy for cancer patients
- Pacemaker implants for cardiac patients
- Discovery of the HIV virus and development of drugs to control the progression of AIDS
- Organ transplantation techniques and anti-rejection drugs
The same research has benefited countless animals. Medicines and vaccines are widely used to ensure the health of companion animals, farm animals and wildlife. Pets, livestock, and animals in zoos live longer, more comfortable, and healthier lives as a result of animal research. Vaccines for rabies, distemper, and parvovirus, and treatments for heartworm, and for livestock diseases, are some examples.
Better treatments have been found for many devastating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and many forms of cancer.
New diseases keep appearing. We only need to think about the events of the past few years: Hanta virus infection; SARS, West Nile virus, BSE (Mad Cow Disease), and Avian Influenza to realize that research into these devastating diseases must continue.
Non-sentient animals (e.g., insects, worms) and research tools such as cell and tissue cultures (to study individual cells, genes and molecules) are used in nearly all phases of biomedical research. However, they cannot give us definitive assessments as to how substances will interact in complex organisms. Studying mammals is very valuable to researchers because they are closest to us in evolutionary terms. For example, many diseases that affect human beings also affect other mammals, but they do not occur in plants, insects or bacteria.
Computer aids, as well as cell, tissue and organ cultures, are all useful in the preliminary stages of research and are also useful in education programs. Mathematical models can improve on experiment design and help predict an organism’s response to varying levels of exposure to a particular chemical. Computer data banks offer the ability to share results with other researchers which reduces test duplication.
Over half of all animals used in medical research are fish and rodents (mice and rats) whose short life span, ease of breeding, and similarity to human biology fits many scientific purposes. The remainder include birds, domestic animals and some wild species.
The choice of species is a carefully thought-out process. Sometimes a most unlikely species may be a useful model for a particular condition. Armadillos were found to be valuable to study leprosy. Pigs are used to study flu and may be the animal that provides organs for human transplants (xenografts).
Animals are valuable to a wide variety of U of S research and teaching programs, including those in the biomedical sciences (medicine, veterinary medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and nutrition), animal sciences, biology, psychology, and several U of S research centres. This results in a tremendous diversity of animals—ranging from rats to cows—used in our research and teaching programs which investigate diseases, treatment/prevention of diseases, reproduction, and behavior.
Laboratory rodents and rabbits are almost all raised in company facilities that can ensure the high standard of health and genetic uniformity required for the research. Some fish, dogs and cats are also bred specifically for research, while other species might be obtained from livestock producers for example.
The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) is a national organization with a mandate to set standards for how experimental animals are cared for and used in Canada. An animal care committee at each institution is responsible for implementing a comprehensive animal care and use program that meets the national standards. This is evaluated by the CCAC through its assessment program.
The goal of the CCAC guidelines is to strive for best research practices and optimal conditions for the animals, through constant improvement as new information on animal well being and health becomes available.
When an experiment is completed, most of the animals will be humanely euthanized to obtain tissue samples for further study and evaluation. Humane methods of euthanizing the animals are used according to guidelines set forth by the Canadian Council on Animal Care.
The use of animals is one of the most regulated aspects of biomedical research. There are a number of safeguards in place that govern the care and treatment of laboratory animals. In Canada the standards for the care and use of experimental animals are set by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). Under the CCAC program each institution where animals are used must have a program of animal care and use that meets the national standards, managed by an animal care and use committee, which has public representation from outside the institution.
There are striking similarities between the anatomy and physiology of humans and various species of animals. For example, much of what we know about the immune system has come from studies with poultry and mice, and much of what we know about the cardiovascular system has come from studies with dogs and pigs.
Research results from animals also provide the information necessary to design human trials that must be completed for legal approval (licensing) of new devices, drugs or procedures. How a new drug or procedure will affect a whole animal is critical before using it on humans. This is critical for scientific as well as ethical reasons. Laboratory animals are an integral part of the research process. In fact, virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals.
Some research may result in some discomfort or pain such as that experienced when recovering from surgical procedures. In these cases, the animals receive medications to relieve pain and distress—just as humans do when they’ve had surgery. But the vast majority of biomedical research experiments do not involve any pain or discomfort.
Scientists support the highest quality of animal care and treatment, and use best scientific practices in working with the animals, for two key reasons. First, the use of animals in research is a privilege, and those animals that help reveal the answers to disease prevention or treatment deserve our respect and the best possible care. Second, a well-treated animal will provide more reliable scientific results, which is the goal of all researchers.
The Canadian Council on Animal Care collects statistics on experimental animal use across Canada. These statistics show that in 2006 just over 2.5 million animals were used in Canada in research, teaching and testing.
For more information, please contact:
U of S Research Communications
Updated February 2010