A rabbit being evaluated by a lab technician.

Photo credit: Understanding Animal Research at Flickr Creative Commons.

For the record, I’m not a big fan of animal testing. But I am a fan of saving lives, both human and animal. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that many of the biggest breakthroughs in medicine have relied on animal testing.

According to the Foundation for Biomedical Research, “animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century—for both human and veterinary health. From antibiotics to blood transfusions, from dialysis to organ transplantation, from vaccinations to chemotherapy, bypass surgery and joint replacement, practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, treatment, cure, and control of disease, pain, and suffering is based on knowledge attained through research with lab animals.”

How can I even suggest that animal testing might be a good thing? Well, for starters, the benefits are nothing to sneeze at:

  • Cancer treatments, HIV drugs, insulin, antibiotics, vaccines, penicillin, and more exist because of tests performed on animals. And lest you think the benefit is only for humans, it’s worth noting that the treatments for feline leukemia, rabies, distemper, and other animal ailments came from this kind of testing, too.
  • Animal testing allows scientists to determine the safety of drugs and other items on the market before humans are exposed to them.
  • Humans share 95% of our genes with mice, which makes mice ideal test subjects in situations where human testing isn’t viable (and that’s pretty much every situation, especially early on in development of a drug or product).
  • Alternative testing methods don’t simulate human reactions as accurately as animal testing does. That may very well change in the future as more testing options are developed, but for now, vital treatments and research can only be accurately developed with animal test subjects.

And it’s not as though these tests are taking place without any sort of oversight. In the last five years, for example, three independent inquiries have been carried out in the UK to review whether or not animal testing is effective and necessary. The House of Lords Select Committee, the Parliamentary Animal Procedures Committee, and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics all found that animal testing is scientifically sound and required for future advances in medicine.

If we want to keep moving toward important medical breakthroughs—like, say, a cure for cancer—scientists must rely on animal testing to get the data needed. In the future, hopefully, there will be other methods; but for now, that testing is of vital importance when it comes to saving lives…both human and animal.