“One only has to look at the Ebola crisis to appreciate the vital role that animals play in biomedical research, in this case, in the testing of potentially life-saving vaccines. But, it doesn’t stop there. Neuropsychiatric disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. Advances in understanding and treating these devastating conditions rests on fundamental basic behavioral and brain science that, as with infectious diseases, begins with carefully conducted studies in animals. NIMH has supported the research in the Kalin lab for many years. This support is part of our commitment to the belief that careful, well-founded, peer-reviewed research such as this will lead to improvements in our understanding and treatment of mental disorders.” — Tom Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Read the letter here. (PDF)
The wide range of students, faculty and scientists at UW-Madison who use animals in research believe that the use of animals in medical research is ethical when performed under strict regulation, in situations where practical alternatives do not exist. The ethical decision amounts to a trade-off between the harm that may be done to the animals and the benefits to suffering patients, today and in the future. The vast majority of biomedical scientists believe that the abolition of animal research is an unrealistic position. While we respect the viewpoint of those who oppose research on animals, we feel that the potential benefits to human welfare, animal welfare and basic knowledge about life are too important to not do the research. An argument can be made that refraining from this research would actually be unethical.
A wide variety of UW–Madison researchers, including veterinarians, medical doctors, scientists and students at all levels of the university, are involved in animal research. Everybody involved in animal research must be trained in animal regulations and care, and have the necessary skills and training. Also, the research must be carried out in licensed premises meeting strict standards and subject to regular inspection.
The Research Animal Resource Committee maintains a phone number for emergency, 24/7 access to veterinary support, and has established procedures for handling the rare emergency of a building evacuation due to a loss of power or other contingency.
Animal research is described and governed by a “protocol,” a description of the project that constitutes a contract between the principal investigator and the UW-Madison Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC). The review and approval for an animal care and use protocol follows these steps: Protocol application is prepared by the investigator and submitted to the Research Animal Resource Center (RARC), which assigns the protocol to the appropriate Animal Care and Use Committee for review. The ACUC can approve the protocol as is, approve it pending answers to certain questions, or require substantial revision. RARC staff communicates the ACUC’s approval or request for further information/revision to the Investigator. Research can begin after the protocol is approved. Prior to making any significant change to the protocol, investigators must get approval of the relevant ACUC.
Both federal and university bodies regulate research using vertebrate animals: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, National Institutes of Health. Food and Drug Administration. Animal research at UW-Madison is overseen by five animal care and use committees, with assistance from the Research Animal Resources Center.
Yes, and we are. For example, two types of stem cells (embryonic and induced pluripotent) are producing human cells that are already being used to test candidate drugs for toxicity. These stem cells are routinely used to produce human heart muscle cells, and because heart toxicity can be lethal, this process will save the lives of both animals and people. Other projects are looking into computer simulations of various sorts that can help reduce the need for research animals. The federal government is looking into alternatives to animal research.
Yes. Following the federal Animal Welfare Act, the UW–Madison Researcher’s Guide to Animal Care and Use specifies that investigators consider alternatives to animal use, as part of its commitment to humane research: Replacement; using non-animal alternatives, such as cell culture, or choosing a species lower on the phylogenetic tree (mice instead of monkeys) Reduction; using the smallest number of animals necessary for valid scientific results Refinement; choosing procedures that minimize pain and distress.
Humans, like all animals, are extremely complicated. Drug development, for example, shows the difficulty of finding an accurate alternative. Many drugs are discovered because a chemical compound does something useful in a laboratory dish, but that discovery is followed by a long process of trial and error: first with simple animals, then with more advanced ones. Even the drugs that do reach human trial often either fail to work or have unacceptable side effects, often discovered first through testing on animals. It’s true that some drugs and diseases “work” one way in mice and another in people; but if animal research can be misleading, computer-based research is likely to be even more difficult. When so much is unknown, how could we possibly program a computer to test drugs and procedures? To put it another way: We will not be able to do all our health and biology research in computers …