Feature

Alternatives to animal experimentation

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39058.469491.68 (Published 25 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:182
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist
  1. 1London
  1. geoff{at}scileg.freeserve.co.uk

    After two decades of decline, the use of animals in research is beginning to rise again. Geoff Watts examines replacement techniques and the potential for eliminating the need to use living creatures

    When I visited the headquarters of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) in the early 1970s, it wasn't clear if it was promoting an idea with a future. My trip had been prompted by the encouraging tone of FRAME's promotional literature. Then, as now, it viewed the scale of animal use as unacceptable. But instead of trying to sicken the public into rejecting it by showing pictures of mutilated cats and rabbits, FRAME was appealing to reason. While accepting that animal experiments couldn't be abandoned overnight, it argued that most knowledge could be acquired without using animals.

    Thirty years on, FRAME raises some three quarters of a million pounds annually and maintains its own laboratory at the University of Nottingham. Its case, and that of a clutch of similar organisations, is now widely acknowledged. As well as accepting that use of animals should be refined and reduced, many research organisations have conceded that replacement is a desirable goal—even if enthusiasm for its implementation is sometimes more muted.

    And yet Home Office statistics show that in 2005 just under 2.9 million new procedures involving animals took place. Although this is substantially lower than the number in the 1970s, it is hardly negligible. So has the advent of alternative research methods merely given scientists a clutch of new tools without eliminating the need for animals? And might these methods have been developed without the intervention of the campaigners—for reasons not of ethics or compassion but of scientific expediency?

    Can animals be replaced?

    Basic scientists pursuing new knowledge are intellectual freethinkers eager to use whatever methods best suit their needs. …

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