There is unfortunately a lot of misinformation and wrong assumptions concerning animal experimentations. The Basel Declaration Society gives the answer to the following question from the point of view of the researchers:
1 Is it true that brain research with non-human primates has not lead to the development of any new treatments in human medicine?
Research with non-human primates has resulted in treatments for several neurological and psychiatric disorders, and has provided invaluable insights into many others. Knowledge gained from basic research with non?human primates, together with primate models of Parkinson’s disease, have played a pivotal role in the development of the therapy of deep brain stimulation for Parkinson’s disease. This new procedure has already dramatically improved the lives of more than 100'000 Parkinson’s patients worldwide, and shows promise in the treatment of many other brain disorders, including Tourette’s syndrome, obsessive?compulsive disorder, and depression. Research on primates underlies much of our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying our most advanced cognitive abilities, and has led to the development of new drugs for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and other cognitive disorders. Research on brain prostheses in non?human primates has been a key development in translating this technology to human patients with stroke or spinal cord lesions. Locked?in patients have also been given new ways to interact and move in their surroundings through brain?machine interfaces. Many novel treatment approaches for neurological disorders currently under study, like gene therapy and stem cell transplants, could not be developed and tested without research in non-human primates.
2 Is it true that animal experiments are used in biomedical research primarily to satisfy scientists’ quest for knowledge, not to develop medical treatments?
Animal experiments are used in biomedical research for a variety of purposes, from acquisition of knowledge, training in surgical techniques, to translational research and safety testing. The division between so?called ‘basic’ and ‘applied’ research is widely acknowledged to be artificial, since many important discoveries for human and animal health and welfare have arisen from research that was initially unconnected with the subsequent application, which itself may only occur decades after the initial discoveries. All the different components of biomedical research are essential for continued medical progress. The aberrant biological processes that underlie a disease can only be deciphered on the basis of a detailed understanding of normal biological functions, which often can be obtained only with animal experiments. Research in animals also underlies many powerful technologies and procedures that are now used to study normal and abnormal biological functions directly in humans. Crucially, essentially all drugs and procedures in modern medicine are directly or indirectly based on technologies, procedures, or insights gained with knowledge obtained from research in animals. Giving up research in animals might not affect medical progress in the next few years, but it would be immensely harmful in the longer term.
3 Is it true that insights from animal experiments (including experiments with (non-human primates) are not relevant for human health?
Insights from animal experiments have been very relevant to human health. In fact, every achievement of modern medicine, from magnetic resonance imaging and novel cancer treatments to minimally invasive surgical techniques, could not have been developed without the significant contribution of animal experiments. Many medical procedures, both surgical and pharmacological, could not have been developed without detailed insights into the fundamental biological processes that are shared across many species, and which were deciphered with experiments in animals. Animal disease models, which are chosen because they replicate processes underlying specific human diseases, continue to play an essential role in understanding the causal components of a disease, and allows this fundamental knowledge to be translated to treatments of humans and animals. Even disease models that do not reproduce all aspects of a human disease have proved invaluable for the development of novel therapies in humans and animals. Every novel medical procedure is tested for safety in animals before it is used in humans. Such safety tests are not infallible—no non-?human species can perfectly reproduce every process in the human body. Nevertheless these tests have been extremely successful, in that they have prevented countless potentially dangerous drugs from harming human test subjects.
4 Is it true that medical progress is hindered by animal experiments, as the insights they provide are misleading?
Animal experiments have played a central role in the development of innumerable medical advances, and will remain necessary for progress in medicine in the foreseeable future. This opinion is shared by government panels worldwide and by all major medical associations, scientific academies, and charitable and patient organizations involved in biomedical research. The World Medical Association, which represents physicians in 102 nations, believes that “animal use in biomedical research is essential for continued medical progress” and requires, on ethical grounds, that “biomedical research involving human subjects should be based, where appropriate, on animal experimentation”. Animal experiments have provided invaluable insights into fundamental biological mechanisms that could not be studied in humans, have led to a deeper understanding of many diseases and to novel therapeutic approaches, and are essential for ensuring the safety of newly developed drugs and medical procedures.
5 Should one really inflict suffering on animals for medical and scientific purposes?
Since at least the start of the animal protection movement in the 19th century, sentient animals have been deemed worthy of protection for their own sake, at least insofar as they live in human environments. The question of whether animals are capable of suffering is key in relation to their ability to feel pain. This criterion sets limits on research using animal testing. In order to explore these limits, there must be a balancing of interests. Each researcher must evaluate and decide whether their study justifies the strain placed on animals to alleviate suffering among people. In order to decide whether animals merit protection, the researcher must also consider how the animals to be studied are treated before and after the experiment; whether they continue to be exposed to fear and stress and/or whether they are given ample space to satisfy their physical and social needs.
From an ethical perspective, it is therefore essential to strictly enforce the 3R principles. The 3Rs stand for: Replace – replacing animal testing with alternatives; Reduce – reducing the number of animals used in experiments; Refine – minimise stress i.e. improve the animal's living situation. Strict implementation of the 3Rs is a must in best practise animal research, while a ban of animal experimentation is not an option, as it would block medical progress.
6 Should one use animals for basic biological and biomedical research?
In animal ethics, one main question is whether experiments using animals are justified when such studies primarily serve to gain basic knowledge and understanding of biological processes. Animal protectionists argue that pain and suffering of animals is only justified if animal studies yield results that contribute to developing cures for human diseases for which there is currently no or no sufficient treatment. However, knowledge driven basic research is constantly making invaluable contributions that will contribute to developing better treatments and ultimately cures for human diseases and suffering. The foundation for developing such treatments is a better understanding of basic mechanisms underlying normal and aberrant biological processes in complex organisms. In most cases, the complexity of normal and disease processes can only be studied with the help of appropriate animal models, which are an essential prerequisite for medical progress. There is no convincing evidence that in the near future complex processes can be studies without using animal models to study at least some of the key aspects.
7 Should one continue to use non-human primates (NHP) for biological and biomedical basic research?
Non-human primates (macaques, rhesus monkeys, baboons, etc.) remain key animal models for discovery research and are essential to the development of new treatment approaches in particular in the field of severe neurodegenerative diseases that include Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Huntington's, etc. Neurobiology is one of the most prominent and active field of research in recent years and continues to deliver scientific and therapeutic breakthroughs. Perhaps the majority of our knowledge on the functioning of individual brain regions stems from studies involving NHP and the most complex regions of the human brain such as the cerebral cortex are best studied in NHPs. This was also recognized by the European parliament as the "EU directive for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes" (2010/63/EU) permits the use of NHP for research, which explicitly includes basic research (art.5 and 8).
8 Is it true, that researchers conduct animal experimentation despite the existence of alternative methods?
To conduct experiments with animals, each researcher within the European Community has to send an application to the responsible ethical board. This authority always asks whether the applicant has been evaluated and if the possible outcome of the experiments can be achieved with alternative methods. Even during the application for grants, the evaluating body carefully evaluates if the suggested project can be accomplished by using alternative methods or by using lower organisms like yeast, fruit flies or worms.
Unfortunately the old legislation also has contributed to the slow development and acceptance of alternative methods. Especially in the drug discovery area, experiments have required the use of animals. Fortunately, the national approval agencies now accept alternative test methods, for example cell culture tests for the production of monoclonal antibodies, instead of the required use of animals.
9 Is it true, that researchers get more research grants if they conduct research with animals instead of alternative methods?
Looking back some centuries ago, this assertion was true. Most of the large grants distributed were based on animal research and only a small sum of money was granted for alternative methods. But this was true mainly because of the policy of the different funding bodies, the lack of reliable baseline data of alternative methods and the skepticisms against alternative methods in the scientific community.
Due to the change of the funding policy and the accruement of more and more accurate baseline data, alternative methods are now regarded worthy for more funding from national and international funding agencies. One good example is the EU-ToxRisk funded by the European Community Program Horizon 2020.
10 Is it true that researcher prefer animal experiments over alternative methods to promote their careers?
The promotion of a scientific career is not based on animal research, but rather on the scientific value of the results from the research. Regardless whether these results are obtained using animals or using alternative methods. A lot of results can be obtained without the direct use of animals and even those results are of value for the advancement of a scientific career. This can particularly be seen in the amount of articles in the leading scientific biomedical journals but also in the raise of the financial appropriations granted biomedical research.
11 Is it true, that animal testing in the field of basic research are solely for the satisfaction of scientific curiosity?
All scientists are driven by scientific curiosity, whether it is in basic research or in other areas of science. There are no objections against basic research per se, as long as the results obtained are important for the greater good for mankind and its results lead to a better understanding of processes that can help to cure diseases. Even in the 21st century not all processes in the body that lead to certain diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson, depression and others are fully understood. Basic sciences can help us to understand processes in the aging body and to understand the genesis of these diseases better. Research with cell cultures can help, but the interaction of different organs, circulation and biochemical processes in the whole body are eminent. For this reason basic animal research is still a valuable tool.