Animals In Science And Education

Millions of Americans benefit from the use of animals in scientific research every year, yet this use of animals is one of the least understood of the human-animal relationships and therefore easiest to vilify. Careful, meticulous use of animals has allowed scientists to develop life-saving antibiotics, vaccines, and cancer drugs; create medicines that relieve pain and control high blood pressure; design prosthetics for accident victims and injured veterans; study the effects of strokes and heart attacks; and investigate theories about behavior and social interaction.

Animals contribute to our body of knowledge every day. Medical students learn about body systems before they see patients. Medical researchers learn about genetics and disease by studying animals, and then apply their knowledge to human medicine. Nutrition researchers test new foods on dogs and cats to make sure that the animals benefit from the formulas. Behavior scientists observe animals to see how they learn, what they eat, and how they raise their young.

Scientists use animals for these purposes to help people and animals live long, productive, pain-free lives. They carefully select the species, breed, and number of animals for particular studies and present a protocol to an Institutional Care and Use Committee for approval. The study protocol must follow federal laws governing animal welfare and consider the scientific and ethical considerations inherent in the work.

Animals also help children learn about behaviors and physical adaptations. Many children start a life-long love for animals and the natural world if their teachers allow fish tanks, rabbits, Guinea pigs or other small animals in the classroom and invite docents from zoos and natural history centers to bring exotic animals for display and discussion.

Opponents of research involving animals often use words such as “exploitation” and “vivisection” to trigger support for their campaigns to end animal-based studies.  They ignore the benefits of the work and claim instead that the tests and trials are unnecessary, painful to the animals, or unethical. Unfortunately, these opponents have been successful in convincing some veterinary colleges and other medical institutions to eliminate many uses of animals, thus reducing the opportunities for students to work on living creatures in a teaching laboratory before they work on patients.

Animal-based research is immensely valuable to human and animal medicine and to those who study behavior, genetics, physiology, and other life science subjects. Marvelous though alternatives such as computer models can be, the use of living systems is still necessary to understand the living, real time effects of vaccines and drugs and to check for unwanted side effects or flaws.

NAIA honors the scientists who have proven, over and over, that animals are important to medical advancement for humans and animals alike. We also understand the value of animal-based tests and trials in many circumstances even while we support efforts to reduce the number of animals used if possible, to alleviate pain, and to refine techniques that minimize animal stress.

We also honor teachers who take the time and make the effort to start children on that life-long love for animals by bringing animals and animal experts into the classroom and taking them on field trips to zoos, farms, and other places where they can see and study creatures of all kinds.