As an academic health and research center, OHSU uses several methods to understand the many causes of diseases and to develop new treatments. These methods include: genetic studies, tissue studies, computer modeling, and human and animal studies. OHSU is not alone. Every major university, business and organization involved in health research uses these same methods.
Occasionally, OHSU receives questions about the role of animals in research. There are several common questions…and below are some answers. If we don’t answer your questions below, feel free to post questions in the comments section and we will get them for you.
Q: Is animal research still necessary? Are there alternatives?
A: Because human health is so complex and because there is so much that is unknown, we need to address health problems from every available angle. That means research requires tissue samples, computer models, clinical trials and even animal studies.
In cases where animals are studied, the use of animals in research has come a long way. The regulations are constantly being updated. In addition, there are many tests involving animals that no longer need to be done. Human health treatments have advanced, and so have the methods for developing those treatments.
Q: Is OHSU one of only a few places that studies animals?
No. Because a lot of organizations don’t actively talk about the need for animals in health research, people might be led to believe that few universities study animals. That’s not the case. Every significant university, business or organization that studies health, also studies animals.
As for why OHSU speaks openly about its use of animals in research, we think it’s a topic where the public should be fully informed. Animals help us understand disease and develop new treatments in cases where no alternative for obtaining this important information exists. Furthermore, when the results of research lead to a product for human consumption or use, the Food and Drug Administration requires safety data in animals.
Q: What about the benefits?
A: Animal research has played a role in most of the treatments we have today. Animal studies have improved human health and animal health too. (Animal studies help improve veterinary medicine also.)
As for the benefits and breakthroughs, the lists are long…very long.
As for OHSU…here’s a list we recently created of primate center breakthroughs.
Q: Do scientists and physicians support animal studies?
Yes and yes.
A few organizations that support animal research
- The American Medical Association - Statement
- The American Veterinary Medical Association – Statement
- The National Institutes of Health – Statement
- The American College of Rheumatology – Statement
- The Alzheimer’s Association – Statement
- The American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons – Statement
- The American Physiological Society – Statement
- The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology – Statement
- Society for Neuroscience - Statement
Here is some more important info: the Nobel prizes linked to animal research.
Q: Is animal research regulated?
Yes. The United States has some of the most stringent animal protections in the world. In fact, if you stacked all the extensive protections for human studies on one side of the scale and stacked protections for animal studies on the other side, the animal protections would far outweigh the human protections. This is the case because animals can’t communicate their wishes. Therefore, significant protections are in place to advocate for their well-being.
The main group of laws that regulate the use of animals in research is the Animal Welfare Act. However, the act is not a static document. It evolves, improves and extends over time. The AWA has been amended many times and will continue to be amended in the future.
Animal research in the United States is also regulated by the National Institutes of Health. State laws are in place to ensure animals don’t suffer. In addition, some organizations like OHSU choose to go above and beyond the regulations and obtain voluntary accreditation. This means that in addition to the laws and regulations, OHSU opens its doors to international animal care experts who tour our facilities and make recommendations that lead on improvements to our animal care and facilities.
Finally, before any project involving animals can begin, an internal/external board called the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee must approve it. The committee includes animal care experts, veterinarians and members of the public. These folks have the power to approve or disapprove a study. The committee can also enforce changes to ensure animals are treated more humanely.
Q: What about past allegations with regard to animal research at OHSU?
A: OHSU has been targeted in the past by animal rights groups. That’s no secret. On two occasions, activists took undercover jobs at OHSU and then made claims of animal mistreatment. News coverage of the allegations was broad. However, as in many cases, the resolution received much less coverage.
In both cases, federal animal care experts conducted extensive investigations of OHSU’s animal care practices. They conducted surprise inspections. They viewed OHSU’s animals and OHSU’s records. They interviewed the directors and animal care staff at our facilities. The investigators also looked at the evidence provided by the activists. In both cases, OHSU was cleared. It was determined that OHSU was not mistreating animals. There was no animal abuse. Following the investigation in 2001, the USDA asked OHSU to address four issues: and we quickly responded. Here’s news coverage of the two clearings in 2001 and 2007.
Do you have addl questions about animal research? If so, post in the comments section below and we will respond.