Education And Debate

Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.328.7438.514 (Published 26 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:514
  1. Pandora Pound, research fellow1,
  2. Shah Ebrahim, professor1,
  3. Peter Sandercock, professor2,
  4. Michael B Bracken, professor3,
  5. Ian Roberts, professor (Ian.Roberts@lshtm.ac.uk)4
  1. 1Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, Bristol BS8 2PR
  2. 2Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU
  3. 3Center for Perinatal, Pediatric, and Environmental Epidemiology, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT 06520 USA
  4. 4London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London WC1B 3DP
  1. Correspondence to: I Roberts

    Much animal research into potential treatments for humans is wasted because it is poorly conducted and not evaluated through systematic reviews

    Clinicians and the public often consider it axiomatic that animal research has contributed to the treatment of human disease, yet little evidence is available to support this view. Few methods exist for evaluating the clinical relevance or importance of basic animal research, and so its clinical (as distinct from scientific) contribution remains uncertain.1 Anecdotal evidence or unsupported claims are often used as justification—for example, statements that the need for animal research is “self evident”2 or that “Animal experimentation is a valuable research method which has proved itself over time.”3 Such statements are an inadequate form of evidence for such a controversial area of research. We argue that systematic reviews of existing and future research are needed.

    Assessing animal research

    Despite the lack of systematic evidence for its effectiveness, basic animal research in the United Kingdom receives much more funding than clinical research.1 4 5 Given this, and because the public accepts animal research only on the assumption that it benefits humans,6 the clinical relevance of animal experiments needs urgent clarification.

    Several methods are available to evaluate animal research. These include historical analysis,7 critiques of animal models,8 investigations into the development of treatments,5 surveys of clinicians' views,9 and citation analyses.10 However, perhaps the best way of producing evidence about the value of animal research is to conduct systematic reviews of animal studies and, where possible, compare the results of these with the results of the corresponding clinical trials. So what do studies that have done this show?

    Systematic reviews of animal research

    We searched Medline to identify published systematic reviews of animal experiments (see bmj.com for the search strategy). The search identified 277 possible papers, of which 22 …

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