Breakthrough innovative medicines and treatments are partly the result of animal experiments. Given the biological similarities between humans and animals, it is possible to transfer the results of experiments.
Results are transferable
Choosing a suitable animal model is key to ensuring that the results of animal experiments can be transferred to humans. That means that the animal must be as similar as possible to humans both genetically and in terms of the biological functions to be investigated. This is the case with zebrafish, fruit flies and rodents, particularly mice. Mice and humans share a very similar development, physiology and genome. The genetic and physiological match between the two species is around 95 percent. This is why mice are the species most commonly used in preclinical research involving animals. Mouse models provide information about human health and disease. A large number of mouse models are now in use in research in Europe and around the world. In addition, disease models have been developed, phenotyped and archived for research. In the disease model, a disease is artificially induced in the test animal. The researchers make sure that the disease process in the mouse is generally the same as if the disease had broken out by itself. As a result it is possible to make inferences about the situation in humans. Differences obviously remain, however. This is why any medicine, new therapy or new treatment method has to be tested on at least two species of animal – rodent and non-rodent – before it can enter the clinical phase and trials in healthy human volunteers.
Animal experiments benefit veterinary medicine too
Dogs, cats and rodents are no strangers to cataracts, all species of animal can develop cancer in various organs, and epilepsy is found in dogs, cats and rabbits. These are just a few of the diseases that people share with animals. Virtually every human disease exists in the same or a similar form in animals and is treated in essentially the same way. There are several areas of common ground between human and veterinary medicine. Many veterinary medicines contain the same API as their human counterpart. Thus, animal experiments also benefit other animals.
Major progress thanks to animal experiments
Animal experiments are only permitted if they are essential for elucidating as yet unresolved questions. They are part of basic research and prescribed by law for the development of new medicines and treatments (preclinical research). The intention of animal experiments is not only to create specific applications, but also to generate knowledge that can be used to develop innovative medicines and therapies. Or in other words, studies and experiments involving animals increase our knowledge of the natural world. They help us gain a better understanding of diseases. Findings from animal experiments can be transferred to humans with sufficient certainty to be able to deduce principles of action and harmful effects. There can be no question that animal experiments make a major contribution to the development of new methods of medical treatment. For example, it is now possible to cure childhood leukaemia in 80 percent of cases thanks to animal experiments. The most recent example is the rapid and successful development of various COVID-19 vaccines.
Animal experiments reduce animal experiments
Research has not yet progressed to a point where it can dispense with animal experiments. Although it is possible to go a long way using computer models and cell cultures, while technologies such as organ-on-a-chip can be used to replicate simple processes, the complex processes that take place within an organism cannot (yet) be reproduced with the methods currently available. This is because even the processes that take place within a single cell are too complicated for a computer. Animal experiments are therefore still needed for the time being – partly to continuously improve them and to replace them at ever smaller intervals.
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