The Evolution of Animal Experimentation

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Researchers frequently gather information about a product or chemical by performing tests on live organisms. However, society pushes to eliminate the usage of animals in the lab. Scientists strive to minimize animal testing, although full elimination is a long way off. Utilized throughout history for the development of medical, pharmaceutical, and cosmetological products, animal experimentation has evolved in the public’s opinions, the lab methods, and the rules and regulations. The public’s opinion on animal testing has and continues to evolve. Initially, dissecting animals in the lab became popular to study their anatomy. Many researchers believed that the animal’s life must be taken for advancement of science. However, in 1938, the public was shocked when over 100 patients died due to a drug known as Elixir Sulfanilamide. The product was not tested prior to commercialization (Jarmusik, pg 2). This crisis swayed public opinion to show more support for animal experimentation.

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Testing products on live organisms became acceptable, as long as it was done ethically. Recently, activist organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who believe animal testing should not be used in any circumstance (About PETA, 1), push the status quo to minimize testing as much as possible. Over time multiple methods that are alternatives to animal testing have been developed. Examples of methods to simulate biological responses include in vitro, the usage of animal cells outside of the living organism, and in silico, the usage of computer modeling. More recently, combinatorial methods such as organs-on-chips, “… computer microchips lined with human cells that can mimic the composition and function of specific human organs, such as lungs, kidneys, or skin,” (Abramovitz, pg 30), provide additional tools for researchers to evaluate the effects of new products on humans without animal testing. However, these alternative methods are not developed enough to be able to fully replace animal testing, as they cannot yet mimic all of the complexities and interactions of the human body. As testing methods have improved, products are introduced to the market that have not utilized animal testing during development.

Companies often use this claim for marketing purposes. It is currently unknown if these alternative methods will ever be able to fully replace animal experimentation. Since animal testing has been with us for some time, rules have been put in place to ensure it is done ethically. Historically, the scientific community self-regulated. For example, François Magendie was described as an “exceptionally cruel person who submitted animals to needless torture.” Therefore, the scientist was called out by his peers for his actions, (Franco, pg 16). Society concluded that informal self-regulation was insufficient. This was analogous to “a fox watching the hen house”: the downside of self regulation is that it puts the scientist in a position to exploit the loopholes for their own benefit. Hence, government agencies such as the The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were established. The FDA imposed rules that labs conducting research on animals must follow and continuously strives to provide humane conditions for animal testing.

A recent example was a study on the effects of nicotine on teen minds. The unnamed company utilized squirrel monkeys and housed them in unacceptable conditions. Not only did this skew the results, but the FDA shut down the study, took away the monkeys, and fined the company after four animals died (Howard, pg 1). Until animal testing is eliminated, the oversight provided by government agencies can be expected to continue. Testing on animals continues to evolve in the public’s opinions, the lab methods, and the rules and regulations. Through animal experimentation, scientists assure the safety of products for the public. The medical and chemical industries use animals to provide a deeper understanding on consumer products and medicines that could be used in the future. The scientific community and society at large have shown a desire to eventually eliminate animal experimentation. However, this cannot yet be done without significant risk to humans with the current state of the world’s technology.

Works Cited

  1. 'About PETA.' PETA. PETA. 15 Feb. 2019.
  2. Abramovitz, Melissa. Thinking Critically: Animal Rights.
  3. Thinking Critically: Animal Rights, 2018. SIRS Issues Researcher,
  4. Franco, Nuno Henrique. “Animal Experiments in Biomedical Research: A Historical Perspective”
  5. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI vol. 3,1 238-73. 19 Mar. 2013, doi:10.3390/ani3010238
  6. Howard, Jacqueline. 'FDA Reviewing Animal Studies in Wake of Monkey Deaths.' CNN Wire Service, 31 Jan. 2018. SIRS Issues Researcher,
  7. Jarmusik, Natalie. '1937 – Elixir Sulfanilamide.' IMARC. 8 Sept. 2014. 11 Feb. 2019.

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