Gianna Rendano is the administrative and development coordinator at Americans for Medical Progress. She received her B.A. from Duquesne University where she majored in international relations and concentrated on humanitarian operations.
As has been their tradition for over three decades, animal rights activists are gathering in several cities the third week in April to mark their World Week for Animals in Laboratories observance. Their concern for the welfare of the animals is to be commended— it is shared by most who work in America’s research institutions. However, the activists’ lurid descriptions of researchers as mad scientists and their insistent calls for the immediate end of animal-based studies are entirely misplaced.
Visualize a world where vaccinations, antibiotics, and surgical interventions did not exist. Fortunately, such a place is almost unimaginable, thanks in large part to the role of animal research in medicine. Scientists’ work with animal models has played a part in the development of nearly every medical advance in the past 100 years. Animal research has led to the elimination of polio, smallpox, and rabies as public health threats in the United States; created new diagnostic tests for cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses; and contributed to the development of effective treatments for serious illnesses such as diabetes, leukemia, HIV/AIDS, cardiovascular disease, and so many others.
We needn’t simply look back. Animal research is integral to the ongoing discovery, research, and development of new advances, including stem cell treatments, gene therapy, and molecularly targeted cancer medicines. Animal research must continue in the foreseeable future. While some computerized simulations and in vitro alternatives are used, technology has not progressed to the point where it can fully mimic how the human body will respond to specific compounds. Laboratory animals, being biologically similar and vulnerable to the same health problems as humans, provide the closest possible model. Animal research benefits animals as well as people. Dog and cat longevity and health are enhanced by medicines and vaccines, and research contributes to farm animal welfare and techniques to save endangered wildlife.
But what about the animal rights activists’ vocal concerns about the welfare of research animals? Such a focus is welcomed by scientists, veterinarians, and animal care technicians at institutions across America who are changing the face of laboratory animal medicine and daily striving for best practices in the care, husbandry, and treatment of the animals. There are certainly laws and regulations in place—some experts state that animal research is even more heavily regulated than human trials.
For most professionals in biomedical research facilities, care for research animals involves going far beyond simple compliance. Cindy Buckmaster, vice president of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science and director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, explains that laboratory animals are respected for the contributions they make. “These animals bring us hope: hope for cures, hope for all of our loved ones, including our pets,” Buckmaster says. She also explains the motivation of those who work with the animals. “They possess a remarkably selfless love. You haven’t met anybody who loves animals like these people who devote themselves physically and emotionally to our research animals, because they love them, as well as the people and animals who will benefit from their contributions… They are heroes, not villains.”
For these research animal advocates working in research centers, every week is a week of care and concern for animals in laboratories!