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Half as many animals used in medical research as 20 years ago

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 19 January 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:134
  1. Zosia Kmietowicz
  1. London

    The number of animals used annually in medical research has halved over the last 20 years, a UK group representing medical researchers has said.

    Just over 2.7m scientific procedures using animals were performed last year. Slightly fewer animals were used than the number of procedures performed, because some animals were used more than once, a new booklet produced by the Research Defence Society has stated.

    The booklet, The Hope, the Challenge, the People, is aimed at increasing public understanding of how animals are used in medical research.

    Animal technician Pauline Tamplin is one of the six people involved in animal research who give a personal account of their work. She said: “I started as a veterinary nurse with one of the big animal charities, but I struggled to come to terms with the daily slaughter of unwanted and stray pets. The charities don't publicise the information, but they put down more cats and dogs in a week than medical research uses in a year. I love the work I do now, and I'm proud of it.”

    Her thoughts on animal research sit next to those of a patient, a family doctor, a surgeon, a medical researcher, and a vet. They all agree that work on animals is a means to an end and that the end products—often lifesaving treatment, such as insulin, cancer treatments, and transplants—are worth it.

    “Actually, no one wants to experiment on animals. What we want to do is medical research. The simple fact is that the only way to so some of that research is to study animals,” said Dr Mark Matfield, director of the Research Defence Society.

    Professor Nancy Rothwell, who leads a team of scientists from the Medical Research Council, is looking at ways to limit brain damage after a stroke or head injury. “I don't like using animals,” she said. “I use them because seeing people with devastating illnesses is even worse. The day when we don't need to use animals, I will be absolutely delighted. Until that day comes, I have absolutely no doubt that the animal research must continue.”

    The latest facts and figures on animal research in the United Kingdom and a guide to other information sources are compiled in two smaller pamphlets launched together with the booklet.

    But the British Union of Abolition of Vivisection believes that medical research can be done without the use of animal experiments. Many alternatives exist, such as cell cultures, computer models, and human tissues, said a spokesperson. The union said that the government gave £264 000 ($382 000; €429 000) towards finding alternatives to animal research last year, whereas the animal testing industry was a multimillion pound business. “We would dispute that animal research is necessary in any circumstance. The political will to find alternatives is simply not there,” she said.

    The new booklet is available free from the Research Defence Society, 58 Great Marlborough Street, London W1F 7JY.

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