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why are animals needed for research?

There is an essential need to develop drugs, medical devices and other promising treatments on animals before they are tested on humans because even the most sophisticated computer models cannot mimic the complex cellular interactions that occur in a living system. Physicians and scientists overwhelmingly agree that animal systems provide invaluable and irreplaceable insights into human systems because there are striking similarities between the genetic and physiological systems of animals and humans. As yet, there is currently no complete alternative to animal research but conceivably, the day may come when animal research is no longer necessary.

what types of animals are usually used for medical and scientific research?

Practically all research animals are rodents – mice and rats – bred for this purpose. Dogs, cats and nonhuman primates together account for less than one half of one percent of the total, and their number has declined for over 20 years. While rodents are the key models of research, many other species have contributed to dramatic advances in biology and medicine. Rabbits and guinea pigs have made enormous contributions to the treatment and prevention of many complex human diseases. Pigs and sheep are also good models for some human conditions.

can’t computer models and cell cultures completely replace animal research?

No. While medical and scientific advances achieved through animal research are frequently supplemented by knowledge obtained through non-animal methods – such as computer models, in vitro research, clinical observation, epidemiology, genetic research and post-marketing drug surveillance – those alternative methods serve only as adjuncts to basic animal research. Even the most sophisticated technology cannot mimic the complicated interactions among cells, tissues and organs that occur in humans and animals. Scientists must understand these interactions before introducing a new treatment or substance into humans.

are lost and stolen pets sold to research facilities?

The vast majority of animals involved in biomedical research are bred specifically for that purpose. Despite frequent, unsubstantiated accusations to the contrary, there is no evidence to support the claim that millions of dogs and cats are taken from homes and shelters and sold to research facilities. In fact, scientists neither need nor want to do research on pets. In quarterly “trace back” audits of 20 USDA-licensed and regulated dealers, the USDA found no evidence of theft.

how can you extrapolate the results of research with rats to humans?

There are striking similarities between the physiological systems of humans and various species of animals. For example, much of what we know about the immune system has come from studies with mice, and much of what we know about the cardiovascular system has come from studies with dogs.

Research results from animals also provide the information necessary to design human trials that must be completed for legal approval of new devices, drugs or procedures. It is important to be able to gauge how a new drug or procedure will affect a whole biological system before using it on humans. This is critical for scientific as well as ethical reasons. Laboratory animals are an integral part of the research process. In fact, virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals.

what laws are in place to oversee research?

Federal regulations governing the care and use of animals in biomedical research are even more extensive than those covering human research subjects. The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) sets high standards of care for research animals with regard to housing, feeding, cleanliness, ventilation and medical needs. It also requires the use of anesthesia for potentially painful procedures and during postoperative care. Most importantly, research institutions are required by law to establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee their work with animals. IACUCs require researchers to justify the need for animals; select the most appropriate species and use the fewest number of animals possible to answer a specific question. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Act requires that all institutions that receive research funds from the Nationals Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control adhere to the standards set out in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Under the PHS policy, institutions must follow detailed animal care recommendations and establish an IACUC to ensure that all animals are treated responsibly and humanely.

For more Frequently Asked Questions about animal research please contact the Foundation for Biomedical Research at (202) 457-0654, by e-mail at, or visit the Foundation’s Web site at