Biomedical Research Educational Trust Statement

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Photographs from 'Every Breath',Theatre of Debate ® workshop

* The use of animals in biomedical research has played a vital role in helping to understand how complex biological systems, like our immune and nervous systems, work.

* These experiments have been essential to our understanding of how and why biological mechanisms in our body go wrong or become infected by bacteria and viruses and cause illness.

* All of the major medical advances, such as vaccines to protect us from diseases like polio and whooping cough and the use of antibiotics to treat infections such as gangrene and meningitis were developed using animals. Animal experiments were vital in developing kidney, heart, liver and lung transplants and testing the drugs that these patients take to prevent their transplanted organs being rejected by their own immune system.

* Unfortunately there are still many diseases that result, too often, in a poor quality of life and premature death. Despite great advances in diagnosis and treatment, cancer still kills about 420 people every day in the UK. The 750,000 people that suffer from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, have an increasingly poor quality of life as the disease progresses causing great distress to their loved ones. In the poorer nations in Africa and Asia malaria is a terrible blight, infecting over 300 million people a year and killing over 1 million of them, yet we still do not have a vaccine to protect people or really effective treatments once they have caught the disease.

* New diseases, like AIDS, nvCJD (mad cow disease) and SARS (bird flu) will appear and require further research to understand their causes and develop vaccines and treatments.

* Why then, given the enormous gains in our biological knowledge (it is thought to double every 18 months), do we need to continue to use animals? The simple answer is that there are still enormous gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how complex biological systems work, reproduce, interact and are controlled. Indeed many of the questions we thought we were close to answering are proving to be increasingly complex.

* Scientists are continually striving to develop research methods which reduce, or better still, replace the use of animals. No one wants to use animals in research if it’s not necessary. Alternative techniques are often more reproducible, more cost effective and ethically more acceptable than those using animals. However for the foreseeable future we will continue to need to use animals in the research process.

* Two thirds of the Nobel Prizes for Physiology or Medicine awarded in the last 100 years have been for discoveries based on animal based research. In a survey of living Nobel Laureates 100% of Laureates that responded agreed with the statement ‘Animal experiments are still crucial to the investigation and development of many medical treatments’.

* We will need to use animals in medical research for the foreseeable future and so we must ensure that this research is carried out in a responsible and humane way. To make sure that this happens the UK has the most rigorous regulations in the world controlling how, when and where this research can be carried out. A team of inspectors from the Home Office is responsible for judging if the benefits of the research justifies the use of the animals and they decide whether or not the research goes ahead.

* The inspectors are also responsible for checking that the animals have been cared in the proper way and visit each laboratory about 12 times a year, on average about 8 of these visits will be unannounced visits made without warning.

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