Lords support animal experiments but call for alternativesBMJ 2002; 325 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7358.238 (Published 03 August 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;325:238
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As you note(1), the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in
Scientific Procedures concluded that animal experiments were necessary,
but that more needs to be done to develop and promote alternative methods.
While it is clear that the Committee sought the views and opinions of
a wide range of experts, we were struck throughout by the lack of
published, peer reviewed evidence to support one of the important
conclusions that they drew: ‘On balance, we are convinced that experiments
on animals have contributed greatly to scientific advances, both for human
medicine and for animal health. Animal experimentation is a valuable
research method which has proved itself over time.’ (Page 22, para 4.8.)
We are not suggesting that the Lords did not seek out such evidence
(it is clear from the transcripts published on the Internet that on many
occasions they asked witnesses to supply them with peer reviewed
references and reviews to support their claims about the efficacy of
animal experiments); rather, we wish to draw attention to the poverty and
paucity of this evidence. There are hardly any systematic reviews, meta-
analyses or retrospective, historical evaluations which can be drawn upon
to either support or refute the practice of using animals as models of
human disease. The Lords' assertion of the value of animal experimentation
rests on the increase in effective human treatments that have arisen at
the same time as the expansion of animal experimentation. This correlation
does not mean that animals were necessary for the development of these
The move within medicine to become more ‘evidence based’ needs to be
replicated in research. In other words, if there is uncertainty about a
particular paradigm or methodology – in this case the efficacy of using
animals as models of human disease - evidence needs to be gathered so that
claims about its efficacy can be supported or refuted. If there is no
evidence to support the use of a particular methodology and only custom
and practice sustain it, then that methodology should be discarded. At
present we are in the ridiculous situation whereby animal tests are used
as the gold standard by which so called ‘alternatives’ are judged, yet
there is virtually no evidence to support the use of the animal tests
themselves. In the few cases where systematic reviews of animal
experiments have been conducted (2,3)serious doubts have been raised about
the methodologies used.
Evaluating the practice of using animals as models of human disease
is fairly straightforward and practicable where established animal models
of diseases exist (4,5). The models should be evaluated retrospectively,
the key criterion being the productivity of the animal model in terms of
producing treatments for humans.
Dr Pandora Pound
Professor Shah Ebrahim
1. Dobson, R. Lords support animal experiments but call for alternatives.
British Medical Journal 2002; 325: 238.
2.Horn J, De Haan RJ, Vermeulen M, Luiten PG, Limburg M. Nimodipine
in animal model experiments of focal cerebral ischemia: a systematic
review. Stroke 2001; 32 (10): 2433-8.
3.Roberts I, Kwan I, Evans P, Haig S. Does animal experimentation
inform human health care? Observations from a systematic review of
international animal experiments on fluid resuscitation. British Medical
Journal 2002; 324: 474-476.
4.Shapiro KJ. Animal models of human psychology. 1998, Hogrefe and
Huber Publishers, Seattle.
5.Kaufman SR et al. An evaluation of ten randomly-chosen animal
models of human disease. Perspectives on animal research. 1989; 1: Whole
Competing interests: No competing interests