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Animal Instincts

Brett Lidbury, associate professor with the Genomics and Predictive Medicine group at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, the Australian National University, Canberra, and scientific advisor to Humane Research Australia

It is extraordinarily confronting to realise, after devoting much of your career to a worthy endeavour, that the primary system for achieving your goals is flawed.

From fresh analyses and thinking on animal models in fundamental biomedical research, a bracing and uncomfortable message has emerged for scientists.

This current trepidation on animal models is not a fad or fringe discussion, but has found forums in well established and highly regarded scientific and medical journals, for example, Science and The BMJ, as well as recently in mainstream media.

Discussion, controversy and debate on the experimental use of animals can be traced to the beginning of the scientific revolution. Over the course of the 19th century, with the increasing modernisation of scientific inquiry and its links to informing medical knowledge, tensions arose that we still recognise today, in terms of human health advancement via animal experiments versus unjustified animal cruelty.

The wider public had a role, with British physiologists of the 19th century, for example, sensitive to public concerns about animal cruelty during experimental procedures, informed by reaction to gruesome experiments conducted by some European physiologists of the time.

From this tradition we gained the “3Rs”—replacement, reduction, refinement—to promote and guide humane experimentation, while ultimately aspiring to absolute animal replacement.

The 3Rs are central tenets of the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, providing practical guidelines on best humane practices for using animals experimentally. They are clearly a significant advance to satisfy both the conventional wisdom that animal experimentation is essential for health progress, as well as the animal welfare obligations broader society demands.

What is different now is that the science itself is under fire, stemming from the re-evaluation of evidence from the burgeoning biomedical literature, the growing concerns about the “valley of death” when developing fundamental discoveries towards health interventions, the costs of research and so on. There is often mention of a “90% failure rate” for animal to human translation.

Disquiet has appeared through the recognition that, in spite of the massive discovery science and preclinical research effort, the expected acceleration in delivery of new therapies has not eventuated — and has in fact declined — while costs to bring a new medicine to market have increased.

Full Article at MJA InSight

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