These consider some of the issues relating to the use of animals in biomedical research:
There have been very few reliable, systematic evaluations of the human relevance of animal research (Pound et al 2004). Many of the proponents of animal research cite single, selected studies as evidence that animal research ‘works’ in a particular area, but single studies – which may be flawed or biased – do not constitute sufficient, high quality evidence. The best evidence comes from systematic reviews. The systematic review method involves taking all the relevant studies in a field of interest and synthesising their findings in order to produce a definitive answer. However, relatively few systematic reviews of animal studies have been conducted and it is rare for them to explore issues relating to human relevance.
An exception is provided by Perel and colleagues (2007), who conducted systematic reviews of animal studies for six different conditions and compared them with systematic reviews of human studies for the same six conditions. They found that the animal and human studies agreed in three cases and disagreed in three cases. They concluded that the lack of agreement may have been due to either the inability of animal models to accurately mimic human diseases, or to the poor quality of the animal studies. Another systematic review found that only a third of animal study findings agreed with the findings of the corresponding human randomised trials (Hackam and Redelmeier 2006).
In 2016, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor suggested that the time had come to evaluate the human benefits of animal research. In a lecture to the animal research community, he asked: ‘To what extent have we as a community, ever subjected our claims about how vital animal research has been to human health to the same level of scrutiny we’d apply to those claiming to have discovered a new cure? And I think if not, we must.’ (Walport 2016)