In the UK all new medicines have to be tested on at least two species of animals before they are tried in animals, to ensure that they are safe and effective.
There are obvious differences between humans and animals such as mice. However, the biology and the way the body works are remarkably similar; for instance, we have the same organs, and similar circulatory, nervous and hormonal systems. Animals develop many of the same diseases and conditions as humans. Where there are differences, this can often shed light on a human process; for instance, information on why naked mole-rats never get cancer could help us to tackle the disease, or the causes of the disease, in humans.
Almost every major medical advance has depended on research first conducted in animals. Examples include antibiotics, anaesthetics, insulin for diabetes, organ transplants, hip replacements etc.
Scientists do use computer modelling and laboratory experiments to research disease processes and to develop and test drugs where possible. However, at some point they have to look at what happens in a real live body because conditions can be very different to those found in cells in a test tube.
For example, although a drug may work well on cells in the test tube, it might be destroyed by the digestive system before it reaches the part of the body that it is targeting. Or it might cause unexpected side effects, such as a skin rash, breathing problems or organ failure. Animal testing also helps researchers to work out what size of dose to use in clinical trials in humans.
In the UK testing cosmetic products on animals was banned in the UK in 1998, and across the EU in 2013.
In November 2015, the UK banned the testing of household products on animals. The ban covers all “finished” products, including detergents, polishes, cleaning and laundry products, air fresheners, deodorants, paints and other decorating materials.
The mammals involved in research at QMUL are mice, rats and naked mole-rats. Our researchers also study zebrafish, zebra finches, fruit flies and bees.
Researchers and dedicated animal technicians are well trained to ensure that any pain that might be caused in procedures is minimised, and that the animals are well looked after and are kept in clean, airy conditions with plenty of room to move around. A vet is on call 24/7 and is available to be consulted and give advice to researchers and animal technicians at any time.
QMUL abides by the strict UK regulations that ensure animals do not suffer unnecessarily; anaesthesia and analgesics are used during and after surgery and at any other time when it is necessary to alleviate pain.
At the end of a study, animals are humanely killed. This is so that they can investigate what has happened inside the body and gain information that is not obtainable in other ways, such as with the use of scans.
When an animal has to be killed, it is carried out painlessly and without distress to the animal, in accordance with strict guidance set out in the UK and EU legislation (EU Directive 2010/63 and the UK’s amended Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986).
Reduce, refine and replace. QMUL is working to:
Further questions and answers about animal research can be found on the Understanding Animal Research website.