All About Animals: Secondary Teachers: Lesson Plan 2: Animal Experiments: Do They Work?

How does this fit into the National Curriculum? Pupils should think about topical political, spiritual, moral, social and cultural issues, problems and events by analysing information and its sources, including ICT-based sources (2a).

Teachers’ Note: Download this sheet and hand it to your class. Go through the information at the beginning with them and discuss the ‘pointers’ in the classroom. Ask them to research this subject further and return for an all-class debate about this issue. Alternatively, you could set this as a written task.

We are not looking at whether animals suffer in laboratories or whether it is morally justifiable to use animals in this way. Your task is to find out whether experiments on animals actually help us develop drugs and treatments for people.

Read the two views below and use them as a starting point for further research. The Internet is a good place for further research and some useful sites have been listed at the end.

Europeans For Medical Progress (EMP) is a patient advocacy group, staffed by doctors and scientists and funded by public donations. They say that animal experiments actually cause harm to people because animals react very differently to people, just as a rat reacts very differently to a drug from a dog.

This happens in two ways:

  1. Drugs that have proved safe in animals are given to people who then become ill or die from them.
  2. Substances that could save human lives are not approved because they are harmful to animals and so people aren’t given drugs that could save their lives.

EMP assert that millions of animals have died in laboratories and there is still no cure for cancer but thanks to studies of people and how they live we now know how to prevent two-thirds of cancers. Studies in real people showed that smoking causes cancer (one third of all cancers) and that another third of cancers are caused by diet. We wouldn’t have known that from studies in animals.

Studies in people also taught us what causes heart disease in almost all cases. Today it is well known that a diet high in fat and sugar, obesity, smoking, lack of exercise and high blood pressure can all cause heart disease. It wasn’t studies in animals that taught us this.

Animals in laboratories are given a disease and then researchers set about trying to cure it and they think this will tell us how to cure the same disease in humans. It doesn’t work because animals are not human and they react very differently to us. Here are just a few examples of drugs that were safe for animals but ended up harming people:

  • Rexan, an antibiotic that was withdrawn after it was linked to seven deaths
  • Isuprel, an asthma drug killed 3,500 people in Britain alone
  • Suprofen, for arthritis, led to kidney poisoning in humans
  • Linomide, a drug for multiple sclerosis, induced heart attacks in several patients
  • Cylert, for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, led to liver failure in 13 children
  • Clioquinol, for diarrhoea, caused blindness and paralysis in people

And there are many, many more examples. It is true that drugs have been developed in the past using animals however that does not imply that animals were necessary. Neither does it address the issue of how many life-saving drugs were lost because of misleading results on animals. Some companies such as Pharmagene develop drugs using only human biological information. They use human tissues and advanced technologies in order to research and produce medicines because “no animal species is sufficiently similar to man to act as a wholly reliable surrogate”.

Research Defence Society (RDS) represents medical researchers and its membership is comprised of doctors and researchers. They are funded by their members which includes research establishments and pharmaceutical companies. They say that we need animals in research and that we must continue to use them until better techniques are devised.

According to the RDS, animal research has played an important role in most major medical advances of the last century. We have probably all benefited from vaccines and antibiotics to prevent and treat infections, or anaesthesia in surgery. Medicines can now overcome serious conditions such as diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure. The RDS say that animal testing was crucial in developing these drugs.

All mammals are descended from common ancestors, and one result of this is that humans are biologically similar to other mammals. All mammals, including humans, have the same organs – heart, lungs, kidneys, liver etc – performing the same functions and controlled by the same mechanisms, via the blood stream and nervous system. Of course there are minor differences, but these are far outweighed by the remarkable similarities. The differences can give important clues about diseases and how they night be treated – for instance, if we knew why the mouse with muscular dystrophy suffers less muscle wasting than human patients, this might lead to a treatment for this debilitating and fatal disorder.

RDS states that animal tests reveal major undesirable effects such as liver damage, raised blood pressure, nerve damage, or damage to unborn babies. The results of animal studies may give a strong indication of what the effects in people are likely to be. It is obviously important, and required by law, to find out about the potential problems before drugs are given to human volunteers and patients.

The discovery of insulin in the 1920s is a good example of the contribution of animal research to medical progress and as a result many millions of diabetics are alive and well today. Each decade since the discovery of insulin has seen the introduction of new kinds of treatments for many diseases. During the 1930s and ’40s, sulphonamides and antibiotics were developed to treat bacterial infections, vaccines were introduced to control viral infections, and surgery advanced with modern anaesthetics and the heart-lung machine. Kidney transplants, hip replacement surgery and drugs to control high blood pressure and mental illnesses followed in the ’50s and afterwards. These and many other advances were dependent on animal experiments.

Other Useful Sites
Seriously Ill for Medical Research (SIMR)
Animals in Medicine Research Information Centre
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM): ‘Rats: Test results that don’t apply to humans’
National Anti Vivisection Society (NAVS)