January 31, 2019

Biomedical Research Leader Highlights Importance of Animal Studies

Biomedical Research Leader Highlights Importance of Animal Studies

The devastation of smallpox and polio can feel like ancient history in the United States, where these diseases have been eradicated thanks to the animal research that led to lifesaving vaccines.

Which other diseases can we look forward to banishing to the history books?

Alzheimer’s, diabetes and Ebola could be next, as long as we continue to support animal research, writes Matthew R. Bailey, president of the Foundation for Biomedical Research, in a recent commentary article for Investors Business Daily, titled “Public Health Still Depends On Animal Research.”

“Scientists are currently working on treatments for the scourges of today with the help of animals,” writes Bailey. 

Bailey highlights recent breakthroughs in understanding Alzheimer’s disease and cancer in mice, which could guide future human therapies. He also describes recent discoveries in guinea pigs that could inform the design of Ebola virus vaccines.   

Animal research also can help both humans and animals. As Bailey points out, diabetes research in mice could lead to therapies for both humans and dogs with the disease.

In fact, many members of the American Society of Animal Science are working toward the goal of translating animal studies to human therapies, and continued federal funding for initiatives like the Dual Purpose for Dual Benefit program supports these efforts. In addition, animal studies strengthen human health by addressing foodborne illnesses and food security.

Bailey takes time to address animal research opposition groups directly. He corrects misconceptions about animal research, explaining that animal studies are tightly regulated by the federal Animal Welfare Act, which requires labs to follow strict environmental regulations and humane standards. 

“Research outfits must also convene Animal Care Committees that regularly review the housing, handling, and nutrition of animals. Those committees include, veterinarians, animal care technicians, and at least one member of the public to ensure impartiality,” writes Bailey. He adds that facilities housing non-human primates must also provide "a physical environment adequate to promote their psychological well-being." 

Taxpayer-funded research is regulated even further. “...Groups that receive government funds for research must follow the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals—an even more exhaustive set of rules,” Bailey explains. 

Scientists also aim to use the minimum number of animals required for a study and try to use animal alternatives, such as computer modeling and cell cultures, when possible. But animal models are still the best way to understand how a drug therapy affects a living organism. 

As Bailey writes, “Animal research is necessary to scientific progress. It's the reason we defeated so many of the 20th century's most lethal diseases. And it's our best hope for doing the same this century, too.”