Letters Utility of animal research

Alternatives to animal research in acute lung injury

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g4171 (Published 10 July 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4171
  1. Dhruv Parekh, clinical lecturer in respiratory medicine1,
  2. Rachel C A Dancer, clinical research fellow1,
  3. David R Thickett, reader in respiratory medicine1
  1. 1University of Birmingham, Centre for Translational Inflammation Research, University of Birmingham Laboratories, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham B15 2TH, UK
  1. d.parekh{at}bham.ac.uk

Pound and Bracken suggest that all animal research is futile,1 highlighting problems with quality, validity, and reporting. Although animal research is not a perfect model of human disease, there are practical and ethical difficulties in proceeding directly to human trials of new drugs. Rather than sweeping aside the understanding that can come from good animal research we should complement it with alternatives. We shouldn’t expect too much from animal models, which only provide insights into mechanisms and proof of concept for novel treatments.

Research into acute respiratory distress syndrome has seen its share of overoptimistic preclinical studies that fail to transpire into clinical trials.2 The challenge has therefore been to develop and adopt human models of lung injury. These include in vivo human lipopolysaccharide challenge in healthy volunteers and surgical models of one lung ventilation (oesophagectomy3 and cardiothoracic surgery4), which cause pulmonary inflammation that can be followed.5 In addition, ex vivo lung perfusion models of lung injury have been developed, using donated lungs that are not suitable for transplantation. However, these models have drawbacks too—none can represent the true heterogeneity of human disease.

The best test species for humans is humans, but this is not always possible so alternatives should be used to complement rather than replace high quality animal research.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g4171


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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