How Effective Is Animal Testing?

Here at Care2, we don’t support animal testing – and not just because it’s inhumane: We also know that animal models can be a poor analogue for humans.

That’s something many scientists accept as well, but hundreds of thousands of animals are used in experimentation every year. Now, in the latest issue of “Lab Animal” – a journal focused on animals in scientific research –some scientists are laying out a compelling case that illustrates the significant problems with animal testing.

Unfortunately, even as they discuss the reasons animal models are so unreliable, the authors ultimately conclude that animal testing is still necessary — a claim some authorities disagree with. Strangely, the article concludes that we should adjust how animals are used in research, as opposed to looking for alternatives.

Some of the issues identified by the authors should be familiar to opponents of animal testing, including:

  • Non-human animals aren’t a good analogue for humans, who have very different anatomy and physiology.
  • Tightly controlled animal populations aren’t a great sample size — akin to testing drugs on multiple copies of the same person in identical circumstances, which doesn’t offer real-world information about how drugs work.
  • Even when researchers use genetically identical animals, like mice, to control for variations that might affect results, they can’t control the environment for reproducible results. Labs have different kinds of cages, bedding and light levels — and lab technicians handle animals very differently.

The authors note that some researchers tend to treat animals as tools, not living beings. They claim that one way to resolve problems with animal models is to view them more like patients than devices. This may involve abandoning some forms of animal testing, but the authors argue that others can still be valid when scientists take a more nuanced approach.

At the same time, however, the publication acknowledges that pharmaceutical companies have shifted away from animal research, illustrating that a combination of ineffectiveness and consumer pressure has a real impact.

While this study highlights the problems with animal models, it’s still predicated on the idea that we need to test drug compounds of interest — true — and that we need to use animals to do so — false.

This kind of thinking often crops up in science and medicine, where professionals rely on the same techniques because it’s what people have always done in the field. Animal testing, for instance, may feel safe, familiar and ultimately trustworthy — despite its ethical implications and a growing mountain of evidence that there are alternatives available.

As it turns out, there are a lot of options for researchers who want to clean up their act and collect more useful data. Researchers refer to the “reduce, refine or replace” model, which says that scientists should be able to reduce the amount of animal testing conducted, refine testing to change how it’s done or, our preference, replace animals with something better.

Notably, in the United States, scientists are required to explore alternatives before they can request permission to work with animals — but the law doesn’t apply to mice, rats, and birds.

Some examples of alternatives to animal testing include:

  • Computer models, which are constantly getting more complex, more nuanced and more capable of handling challenging tasks.
  • In vitro — test tube — research with human tissue and cells, like stem cells.
  • Microdosing: Giving human volunteers small doses of compounds to see how they react.
  • Medical imaging to learn more about anatomy and physiology without causing harm.

These methods aren’t just the right thing for animals. They’re also the right thing for science, yielding more useful, applicable results at a fraction of the cost and environmental impact of animal testing. In addition, industry should love them, as they take much less time, allowing companies to cut down on research and development time as they move a drug onto the market.

Researchers may want to cling to animal testing, but that doesn’t mean you have to. A growing array of cruelty-free products can help you make ethical choices at the store, from pest management to lipstick. If you take medications, you can push pharmaceutical companies to consider alternatives, and ask legislators to take a stand when drafting policy.

Photo Credit: Global Panorama/Flickr


Leanne K
Leanne K9 months ago

Im glad Care2 is against testing on animals. If you are too, please sign my petition

Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Melania P
Melania P1 years ago

Test on rapers.

Telica R
Telica R2 years ago

Is testing on animals even humane

Margie F
Margie FOURIE2 years ago

I try to avoid products that have been tested on animals. They are all Gods creatures.

Teresa Wright
Teresa Wright2 years ago

Animal testing is cruel, inhumane and causing pain and suffering to the animal, No testing it must be stopped for good.

Elaine W
Elaine W2 years ago

No testing on animals!! Thanks.

Susanne Wiesneth
Susanne W2 years ago

Animal testings are one of the worst crimes on defenseless animals. Not a single experiment has proved the benefit to humans. Behind closed doors, these poor animals are bound to infinite suffering until they're finally killed. The term "finally" I use consciously, because I then know that an animal no longer has any pain. And for what? For a new hairshampoo, of which there are already countless on the market. It is so shameful that humanity doesn't know any boundary.

Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O2 years ago

It must be stopped post haste! Like yesterday!!

heather g
heather g2 years ago

agreed - thanks Care2