Use of Higher Mammals in Research

Almost 85% of the animals used for medical, veterinary and basic research across Europe, covered legally by the EU Directive 2010/63/EU, are mammals. Additional, legally regulated animal models include fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles. This position paper discusses how the research community should meet the needs of higher mammals used for basic and applied research. Of the total number of animals used for research in the EU in 2008 (most recent statistics), 79.4% were rodents (primarily mice [59.3%] and rats [17.7%]). The majority of the other mammals were rabbits and pigs. Cats, dogs, non-human primates, equids and horses accounted together for less than 0.4% of all animals - see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/chemicals/lab_animals/pdf/sec_2010_1107.pdf

The role of mammals in research:

The history of medical and veterinary research shows that using mammals has been essential for many important medical breakthroughs as illustrated by few select examples:

  • Mice and higher mammals played a key role in the development of the breast cancer drug Herceptin, which is based on a humanised mouse protein.
  • Higher mammals, in particular non-human primates have played a critical role in understanding many aspects of biology relevant to human physiology and disease, from the Rhesus factor in blood to the development of Deep Brain Stimulation, a treatment strategy for Parkinson's disease and dystonia.
  • Rabbits, dogs and cows were necessary for developing the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which is very effective in reducing incidents of cervical cancer in women.

Although the last hundred years have seen many medical breakthroughs, many more diseases remain incurable. For example, Alzheimer's and degenerative motor neuron diseases will become more prevalent as Europe's population continues to age. Research using mammalian species remains key to facing down some of these new challenges, which includes:

  • Research on rodents aimed at breaking down the tau protein tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, genetically modified mice help scientists to gain insight into the basic mechanisms that underlie normal organ development and physiology and the fundamental causes and potential prevention of human diseases.
  • Non-human primates are also key models to study cognitive and fine-tuned motor abilities that are relevant for gaining insight into important human conditions such as neurodegenerative diseases, neural plasticity after damage to the nervous system, or the neural bases of the reward system and its pathologies, e.g. addiction.
  • Studies using non-human primates also provide novel insight into infectious diseases that continue to claim many human lives (e.g. tuberculosis, malaria and HIV).
  • Research on genetically modified pigs, another higher mammalian species, helps to understand and alleviate genetic and degenerative diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis and Duchene's muscular dystrophy.

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