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Animal research

Animal research is essential for developing new medicines - but we recognise that it is an emotive issue that brings up ethical dilemmas

Progress in medicines research benefits us all. Thanks to modern medicines, millions of people are alive today who would otherwise be dead. Millions more with medical problems have been enabled to lead active lives. Animal research has played a major part in all of these advances.

All new prescription medicines must be studied in animals before they are tested in people. Advances in computer and test tube methods are making a big difference and are always used first. But many of the potential effects of medicines are the result of chains of biological reactions that can still only be investigated in the living body, with all its cells, organs and systems working together. No combination of computer models and work on isolated cells and tissue can, as yet, come close to reproducing the vast complexity of the body.

Many of these more complex effects of medicines in people can be identified in well-designed animal studies, giving researchers the necessary guidance to decide whether to take a potential new medicine forward to be tested and then used in people. It would be unacceptable in our society - and would not be permitted - to risk causing harm to people in order to avoid using animals.

In the UK research involving laboratory animals is controlled by very comprehensive laws. The law balances the needs of research with the welfare of laboratory animals. The use of animals must be kept to a minimum and any distress an animal is likely to experience must be justified by the potential benefit of the research and must be kept to a minimum before, during and after experiments.

The pharmaceutical industry supports the use of animals only where the research cannot be done in other ways and then only with care. But if we want new medicines for conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, epilepsy, asthma, heart disease and AIDS, then animals will continue to be needed.

What sorts of animals?

Well over 90% of research using animals is done in mice, rats, fish and birds. Only a very small amount, less than 0.5%, involves cats, dogs or primates.

The animals used are specially bred and are well looked after by vets and animal technicians.

Relevant Downloads

Free booklets are available to raise awareness of why animals are used in the development of new medicines and to encourage informed debate and discussion. Animal Research and Human Medicine has been developed specifically for use in schools at Key Stage 3 and 4.

Animal Research and Human Medicine Booklet (PDF 2.3 MB)
Animals and Medicines Research (PDF 1.9 MB)

Relevant Links

The links below provide suggestions for activities linked to use of the above booklets.

Visit Understanding Animal Research - school zone to facilitate debate and discussion around the ethical dilemmas associated with animal research.

Visit to find out more about how animals have been used in drug discovery research.