Animal-free research, and why it matters.
On the grounds of Novosibirsk’s Institute of Cytology and Genetics stands a statue of a sad-looking elderly mouse knitting a double-stranded DNA molecule. This statue was unveiled in 2013 in honour of all the lab mice used in research across the world. We have given mice cancer, diabetes, and schizophrenia among other things over and over in hopes of finding a magic cure for all our ailments. Alongside mice, animals like dogs, horses, monkeys, fish, and others are used in research every single day.
Obviously, we cannot disregard how much knowledge has been gained by using animals in research. However, it is time for change. We now have the tools necessary to model human diseases in a human-relevant way instead of using animals. We have the power to stop unethical experiments and start getting more representative data, leading to a better understanding of human diseases and the development of drugs with fewer side effects.
It is true that we have a lot in common with animals, however, we are also very different. Our differences are one of the reasons behind so many drugs failing clinical trials even though they showed great results in animals. Recently, more and more scientists are combining biology, chemistry, and engineering to create human tissue and organ models instead of using animals.
One example of animal-free research is a diabetes study conducted by Dr Nicola Jeffery’s research group at the University of Exeter. After performing their research without using any animals or animal-derived products, they found that there is a gene responsible for insulin-producing beta cells conversion into delta cells. These cells produce somatostatin instead of insulin, causing lower body responsiveness to insulin, which is one of the manifestations of Type 2 diabetes. You can read more about their findings here .
A lot is being done to make research animal-free, but much more needs to be done for the whole scientific community to recognise the benefits and stop using old methods by inertia. In the UK, organisations such as NC3Rs and Animal Free Research UK are working hard to raise awareness about animal-free research both in the scientific community, and in public. An increasing number of life sciences-related research projects are sponsored by such organisations, to educate a new generation of scientists specialising in animal-free research. As Animal Free Research UK say, there is a brighter future both for animals, and for humans.
Edited by Liam Butler
Copy-edited by Liam Butler