It’s a stereotype to suggest that researchers are callous, noncaring and sociopathic.
IN light of the recent animal-rights protests, it’s time that we engage in a discussion about the reality of animal research. I want to cut to the chase: Most people do not feel comfortable about the use of animals in research. There is a squeamishness factor attached to this work, and it is impossible not to overlay how we would feel if the experiments were being done to us, to our loved ones and to our pets.
Fifteen months ago, I was offered the role as the executive director of the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research (NWABR). In this role, I have thought a lot about animal research and, in doing so, I have changed my views about its importance.
I support animal research because I trust the people doing the work. The stereotype is that researchers are callous, noncaring and sociopathic. The reality could not be further from the truth. The veterinarians, lab and animal technicians who I have met have demonstrated love and care for animals. They know their animals, have often bred and raised them, and they do everything they can to enrich their lives and minimize and remove suffering. They would never be callous or uncaring. I have seen seasoned veterinarians tear up when they talk about their work and lifelong technicians who use their break time to play with their animals.
The animal activist community has played a role in helping to improve the treatment of animals in research. For these reasons, I continue to support activists. On the other hand, I can’t see in my lifetime when we will reach a stage where animals in research will not be necessary.
I support animal research because I trust the process. Every use of an animal in the United States has to be approved and monitored by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. These committees approve the species, numbers, procedures, care plans and the overall aims of the research. Researchers have to justify every use of an animal and that the research has sufficient merits to involve the use of animals.
Federal regulators closely monitor this work and they undertake unannounced audits of the research to ensure that animals are being protected. The committees include scientists and members of the public, and they will not approve research if anything is not clear. These committees also continuously improve processes and monitor research in order to reduce impacts on animals.
I support animal research because when something goes wrong, people move in to fix it. The standard aspired to in all animal research is that there will be no failures. When failures occur, there is a systemwide response to understand what happened and to stop future incidents. In my 15 months at NWABR, there have been a few cases where federal officials have noted a failure. Every one of these instances is used as an opportunity to learn and improve.
I support animal research because I have directly benefited from it. I rely on medications that keep me healthy. I have close friends and relatives who would not be alive today without the contribution of animal research. This research needs to be ongoing as researchers work on the seemingly endless stream of terrible diseases and conditions that impact us. Arising from the Nuremberg trials, it has been the world standard since 1947 that animal-based pharmacology and toxicology studies are required to ensure that new drugs or new uses for drugs are reasonably safe before initial testing on humans. Every person who takes a prescription drug in the United States is benefiting from animal testing.
Would I support the end of animal research? Yes, of course. However, the science and the technology are not available yet, and stopping animal research would mean stopping the advancement of our medical knowledge.
I strongly support the University of Washington’s new Animal Research and Care Facility. One thing that has been missing from the “no new animal lab” movement is that this facility will not be the genesis for the increased use of animals in research. The research is ongoing and will continue whether the UW completes this lab or not.
What this facility will allow is the improved care and protection of animals. This is a purpose-built facility. There will be markedly improved facilities, coordination and management resulting in better care. People arguing against this facility are essentially arguing for a quality of care for research animals that is less than what can be achieved.
For all of the above reasons, I support both animal research and the University of Washington’s new animal laboratory.