Analysis

Is animal research sufficiently evidence based to be a cornerstone of biomedical research?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g3387 (Published 30 May 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3387
  1. Pandora Pound, medical sociologist1,
  2. Michael B Bracken, Susan Dwight Bliss professor of epidemiology2
  1. 1Bath, UK
  2. 2Yale University Schools of Public Health and Medicine, New Haven CT, USA
  1. Correspondence to: P Pound pandorapound{at}gmail.com

Public acceptance of the use of animals in biomedical research is conditional on it producing benefits for humans. Pandora Pound and Michael Bracken argue that the benefits remain unproved and may divert funds from research that is more relevant to doctors and their patients

Proponents of animal research claim that the benefits to humans are self evident.1 However, writing in The BMJ 10 years ago we argued that such uncorroborated claims were inadequate in an era of evidence based medicine.2 At that time over two thirds of UK government and charitable investment was going into basic research,3 perhaps creating an expectation that such research was highly productive of clinical benefits. However, when we searched for systematic evidence to support claims about the clinical benefits of animal research we identified only 25 systematic reviews of animal experiments, and these raised serious doubts about the design, quality, and relevance of the included studies. As our colleagues had done earlier,4 we argued the case that systematic reviews should be extensively adopted within animal research to synthesise and appraise findings, just as they are in clinical research.

Poor quality and reporting of animal studies

The overall number of systematic reviews of animal studies remains lamentably low, with the ratio of reviews to total number of publications being about 10-fold higher in human studies.5 In 2011 Korevaar and colleagues identified 244 systematic reviews of preclinical studies up until 2010, estimating that the number was doubling every three years.6

As the number of systematic reviews increased, the poor quality of much preclinical animal research became increasingly apparent.7 Evidence accumulated that many animal studies failed to address important threats to internal and external validity, making prediction to humans tenuous at best.8 9 For example, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in …

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