University Animal Care Committee

University Animal Care Committee

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Animal Ethics & Care in Science - Frequently Asked Questions

What is biomedical research?

Biomedical research is the pursuit of answers to medical questions. Biomedical research is conducted to improve the quality of life and health for both humans and animals and to reduce suffering through improved methods of preventing disease and development of new treatments, techniques and technologies. This research benefits society in general by improving the health of people, the health of our companion animals, the health and well-being of food producing animals, and the well-being of wildlife and the environment.

Who does research with animals?

Most biomedical research is conducted by scientists in universities and medical, veterinary and agricultural schools. Research in some federal and provincial government agencies also involves animal use, and private companies—pharmaceutical, biotechnology and agricultural—may also use animals in their research and development programs.

Trained veterinary technicians are an essential component of all research laboratories which use animals. These individuals are responsible for daily monitoring of the research animals and for providing the daily care to the animals and the facilities in which they are housed.

What rules and regulations govern the care and treatment of animals in laboratories?

The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) is a national organization with a mandate to set standards for the care and use of animals in research in Canada. Each research institution will feature an animal care committee responsible for implementing a comprehensive animal care and use program that meets the national standards. This is evaluated by the CCAC through its assessment program. The goal of the CCAC guidelines is to strive for best research practices and optimal conditions for the animals, through constant improvement as new information on animal well-being and health becomes available.

In Ontario, the use of animals in research is also regulated by the Animals for Research Act which is enforced by the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. Unannounced inspections are conducted on a yearly basis to ensure compliance with the Act.

It should be noted that the use of animals in research is not only necessary, but pre-clinical trials on animals are often a legal requirement before the drug can be put to use.

How has animal research helped humans and other animals?

Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century, for both human and animal health. Here are a few examples of the many medical advances that were made possible through animal research:

  • Antibiotics for the treatment of bacterial infections (starting with the discovery of penicillin in the 1930s)
  • Vaccines for smallpox, tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, Lyme disease, hepatitis B and chicken pox
  • Insulin to control diabetes
  • Safe anaesthesia drugs
  • A wide array of excellent pain-relieving drugs
  • Chemotherapy for cancer patients
  • Pacemaker implants for cardiac patients
  • Discovery of the HIV virus and development of drugs to control the progression of AIDS
  • Organ transplantation techniques and anti-rejection drugs

Better treatments have been found for many conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, diabetes, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and many forms of cancer. As new diseases, such as SARS and West Nile virus continue to appear, research plays a vital role in developing effective treatments.

Why are animals used—is their use necessary?

Almost all the research leading to medical advances and discoveries over the past century involved animal based research. The development of vaccines for preventing diseases such as smallpox and polio, and the discovery of anaesthesia and drugs such as aspirin and insulin, all involved animal use. Animals are often the most valuable way to study the effects of how organ systems in the body (for example, the nervous system) interact with each other (for example, the immune system or the endocrine system), or to learn about the side effects that might occur with a treatment (effects on respiration, kidney function, or heart rate). Thus the use of animals is considered very valuable for these developments.

Often, animal use in research isn’t just necessary, but also a legal requirement. Regulatory agencies in most countries require evidence of drug safety before they can be used with humans and in many cases this pre-clinical testing is done on animals.

Scientists use animals in research only when necessary and are constantly trying to reduce the amount of animals used, refine their techniques so fewer animals are needed and replace certain animal tests with alternatives, when possible.

The three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) are accepted around the world as the standard for the humane and responsible use of animals in research. They are the cornerstone of the Canadian Council on Animal Care program and are incorporated into all aspects of the guidelines and policies of the CCAC for the use of animals

Can humans be used in research instead of animals?

Humans are recruited to participate in medical research through studies called “clinical trials.” Some animals may also participate in veterinary clinical trials with their owners’ consent. In the research path to the discovery of, for example, a better treatment for hypertension, some studies might be done in cell or tissue culture, then in animals, and ultimately in humans. Such clinical trials are very carefully regulated.

What alternative methods of research are available?

Computer aids, as well as cell, tissue and organ cultures, are all useful in the preliminary stages of research and are also useful in education programs. Mathematical models can improve on experiment design and help predict an organism’s response to varying levels of exposure to a particular chemical. Computer data banks offer the ability to share results with other researchers which reduces test duplication. It’s important to note that most research will come to the point where the use of alternatives isn’t enough to progress the research. At this point the use of animals in research becomes necessary and is often a legal requirement before any treatment can be applied to humans.