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Research that Advances Human Health Without Harming Animals

  • ADAPTED FROM: MEDICAL RESEARCH MODERNIZATION COMMITTEE'S A Critical Look at Animal Research and Answers to Commonly Asked Questions about Animal Experimentation


Document epidemiological, case study, or experimental research that advances human health without dependence on animal experimentation.


This unit will aquatint students with some of the Medical Research Modernization Committee's concerns about the scientific value of animal research. It will also suggest a variety of non-animal methodologies that could be used as alternatives to animal research.


A review of the medical literature reveals two consistent trends. First, animal experimentation has had little, if anything, to do with most medical advances. Animal researchers and their academic colleagues determine medical school curricula and edit scientific journals. By these means, they have been able to promote the historically inaccurate view that animal research has been vital to medical progress.

Several medical historians have found that most major advances in areas such as heart disease and cancer have developed from human clinical investigation. Animal experiments, significantly, have tended to follow, rather than initiate, the process of medical discovery. While animal experimentation has uncovered some useful information, this is hardly surprising, given the billions of dollars invested in it annually. On the other hand, it is possible that many promising therapies were abandoned because inaccurate animal models yielded discouraging results.

Virtually every time Medical Research Modernization Committee (MRMC) scientists and clinicians have been asked to review animal research projects, they have found significant scientific shortcomings that make the value of the research highly questionable. One example is head physiological differences between cats and people precluded the possibility that the highly artificial; head injuries being inflicted on cats could improve our understanding or treatment of human head trauma. The MRMC literature provides numerous other examples.

The basic problem is that animal models show fundamental anatomical, physiological, and pathological differences from the human disease they are said to mimic. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine justified animal use in cancer research on the ground that "cancer kills humans and animals alike." However, injection of rapidly growing cancer cells into young, healthy animals causes tumors that are biologically different from the major human cancers, which tend to be spontaneous, slow-growing tumors in older people.

MRMC scientists have been particularly critical of animal models of mental illness and addiction. Non-human animals do not appear to suffer from mental diseases as schizophrenia. (Even if an animal had delusions, how would we know about it? The animal could not tell us.) The critically, important sociological, cultural, and psycho-pathological factors that lead to drug abuse cannot be reproduced in any laboratory.

The animal research debate is of major importance to public health. Given the enormous time, effort, and money poured into animal experimentation and the meager benefits this research has yielded to date, it is reasonable to conclude that animal research is neither an efficient nor valuable research method. The billions of dollars currently spent on animal experimentation should be redirected to more productive research methods, preventative health programs, and treatment facilities. The MRMC believes that such a redistribution of funds could save many lives.

In addition to such traditional research methods as clinical trials, epidemiological investigations, biopsy and autopsy, some technologically advanced methods, such as CAT and PET scans, cell and tissue cultures, computer models, and computerized post-market surveillance of drugs, permit safe, direct study of human disease. The success of these methods counters claims that animal experimentation is necessary. However, the politically powerful animal research establishment continues to receive the largest share of available research funds.


Students will collect information concerning non-animal methodologies, including:

  1. Autopsies
    The autopsy rate in the United States has been falling steadily, much to the regret of clinical investigators, who recognize the value of this traditional research tool. Autopsies have been critical to our current understanding of many diseases, such as diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. The usefulness of autopsies generally is limited to the disease's lethal stage. Biopsies, however, can provide information in other disease stages. Diagnostic needle biopsies and endoscopic biopsies often permit safe procurement of human tissues from living patients.
  2. Non-Invasive Imaging Techniques
    The development of non-invasive imaging devices, such as CAT, MRI, and PET scans, has revolutionized clinical investigation. These technologies permit the ongoing evaluation of human diseases in human patients, rendering many uses of animals obsolete. For example, CAT and PET scans have been valuable in the study of Parkinsonism, visual physiology and musculoskeletal tumors.
  3. Post-Market Surveillance
    Thorough reporting of drug side-effects by post-market surveillance is now possible because the computer power needed to process the huge quantity of data is so inexpensive. Such a system would have identified the thalidomide disaster after only a few cases. When the first birth defects were noticed, however, scientists had great difficulty reproducing the deformities in laboratory animals. It took several months before investigators could "prove" in animals that thalidomide causes birth defects.

    Post-market surveillance would also increase the likelihood that unexpected, valuable uses of drugs would be recognized. Indeed, such serendipitous discoveries have led to many pharmaceutical advances, including anti-cancer medications such as prednisone, nitrogen mustard and actinomycin D. Furthermore, serendipity has been responsible for many important discoveries, such as the tranquilizing effect of chlorpromazine and the tricyclic antidepressants.
  4. Other Alternatives
    In vitro cell and tissue cultures have strengths and limitations. They are not whole animals, and they may fail to reproduce interactions between organ systems. However, they can be powerful tools for studies at the cellular level, particularly when human tissues are used. In the search for new anti-cancer drugs, 4000,000 chemicals were screened, mostly on mice who were given mouse leukemia. Although a few compounds were effective against mouse leukemia, they had little, if any, effect upon the major human cancer killers. Today, this wasteful program is being replaced with a screen of about 100 human cancer cell lines in vitro. This alternative is much less costly and, because human cancers are being used, it should be more reliable.

    Mathematical models, like in vitro models, are not perfect. However, these models can use human clinical data; consequently, the results may be more relevant to humans than conclusions based on animal data. Mathematical models have advances our understanding of the growth and spread of breast cancer, and this has furthered the development of therapeutic strategies.


  • The student will conduct a review of the literature on the historical impact of animal research from the point of view of animal research proponents and non-animal methodologies proponents. They are to cite conclusions as to why animal research persists as well as benefits and limitations of non-animal methodologies.
  • The student will conduct research using a non-animal methodology. For specific student projects, courses, and scholarships, contact:

The American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research
175 West 12th Street, Suite 16G
New York, NY 10011

Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences
One Cloister Court
Bethesda, MD 20814-1460
phone: 301-496-8290

American Fund for Alternatives to Animal Research
175 West 12th Street, Suite 16G
New York, NY 10011

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
424 East 92nd Street
New York, NY 10128

Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences
One Cloister Court
Bethesda, MD 20814-1460
phone: 301-496-8290

Medical Research Modernization Committee
PO Box 2751, Grand Central Station
New York, NY 10163-2751
212-579-3477, fax: 216-283-6702

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
PO Box 6322
Washington, DC 20015

Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
c/o Dr. Emmanuel Bernstein
45 Glenwood Road
Saranac Lake, NY 12983