Benefits of Animal-Based Science

The benefits or successes of animal-based science are so widespread that it is hard to imagine any area of our lives that is unaffected by them.

The specific benefits of animal-based science are therefore far too numerous to list here, so the general benefits will be outlined first, then just a few specific benefits will be listed as examples, and that will be followed by a very brief history showing when some important biomedical developments occurred.

General benefits of animal-based science

Higher order animals are used in research, teaching and testing because of the benefits they bring to both animals and people. Those benefits are the reasons why a research, teaching or testing procedure is done in the first place (i.e. the aims of the work).

  • Research

    Research using animals has various broad aims (see why study animals?), which include:

    • Improving the health and well-being of people.
    • Improving the health and welfare of entertainment, recreational, sport, and service animals, and of animals used to provide therapeutic support.
    • Improving the health, welfare and productivity of farm animals and other production animals
    • Finding better ways to preserve, protect and manage a range of animal species (especially endangered and native animals) to maintain a balance that is ecologically stable and well adapted to the Australian environment.
    • Developing more humane and effective pest control methods to protect endangered animals and plants from the species that threatens them and to prevent damage to the environment.
    • Broadening the foundations of biological science, including our knowledge and understanding of life processes in all animal species.
  • Teaching

    The knowledge we gain about animals and people through research needs to be passed on, now and in the future, to those who are or who will become:

    • Doctors, nurses and other human health professionals.
    • Animal care personnel, veterinarians, farmers, conservation managers, zoo keepers and others engaged in animal-related activities.
    • School, polytechnic and university teachers; researchers in animal-based science.
    • Anyone interested in how their own body works or in what the welfare needs of animals are, and those interested in the coexistence of animals and people.
    • All such education involves describing, explaining and demonstrating how the bodies of animals and people work and how the functions of the body can be modified to benefit animals or people. Teachers are required to apply the 3Rs Principle whenever they consider using animals during a teaching exercise.

    Testing is done as a check on the safety of new drugs or substances for human or animal use, and to check whether new batches of drugs and other agents like vaccines work. There is a legal requirement to test how safe and effective chemicals, drugs and other therapeutic agents are before they can be sold. Well-known tests that cause suffering when the test substance is poisonous, corrosive or otherwise harmful are the LD50 Test and the Draize Eye Irritancy Test.

    All three of the 3Rs have been successfully applied to testing and scientists are working hard to find more and better ways of applying them. For instance, replacement of animals with tissue cultures (cells kept alive in a test tube) is now used extensively, especially in the early stages of testing when whole animals were once used. Also, employing careful statistical analysis and substitutes for animals (replacements) have markedly reduced the number of animals required in testing procedures, and using earlier more humane endpoints thereby ending a noxious testing procedure much sooner than used to be the case is a form of refinement.

Some specific benefits of animal-based science

Some of the examples of the benefits provided here arose from direct observation of people. However, the details of the body mechanisms in people were mostly worked out by studying similar functions in animals. The benefits brought to animals were mostly worked out by direct animal studies, but sometimes arose from studies of people.

  • Anaesthetics

    General anaesthetics, which are the chemicals used to make you unconscious during an operation, were first discovered and used in the mid 1800s. Before that, what passed for surgery was little more than refined butchery. Surgical operations - like amputations, removal of bladder stones, caesarean sections and others – were done with the conscious patient strapped to the operating table. Speed during the operation was of utmost importance to reduce the period of agony and terror. Controlling blood loss was attempted by cautery using hot irons or boiling oil or tar. Imagine if you can the screams as flesh and bone were cut with scalpel and saw, and imagine the sizzle and stench of burning as the stumps of amputated limbs were plunged into boiling oil.

    The ability to safely cause unconsciousness, and maintain it, using the first general anaesthetics was a key event which began the transformation of surgery from the bloody race against the clock it used to be into the refined, sophisticated and successful activity it usually is today. The later discovery, development and assessment of a range of other general anaesthetics which are safer both for the patient (they do not explode and are less irritating to body tissues) and the surgeon (they are non-explosive and less addictive) also contributed to this process.

    These developments have brought huge benefits to both animals and people. The understanding of how anaesthetics work, the discovery and testing of new and better anaesthetics and the continuing refinement of the methods of giving anaesthetics to make them safer have all relied heavily on animal-based studies.

  • Antiseptics

    Asepsis and antibiotics

    Today we take it for granted that bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms cause infections. As a result we understand the value of using antiseptics to make things sterile and cleanse wounds, and we know how important it is to do surgical operations using aseptic techniques to prevent micro-organisms from being introduced into the body during the operation. Also, we can use antibiotics to kill bacteria which might enter the body during the operation or which might infect the wounds after it.

    It was not until the mid to late 1800s that the link between micro-organisms and infectious diseases was both established and accepted. Before that, signs of infections in wounds were thought to indicate that the healing process had started. Thus, pus was known as "laudable pus", and surgeons and physicians with accumulated pus on their clothing used to pass infections from patient to patient. At that time, if the trauma of surgery without anaesthetic did not kill you then infection of the wounds caused by the surgery probably would.

    Moreover, the hazards of childbirth were greatly increased by the common but unknowing introduction by midwives and physicians of micro-organisms into the female genital tract. That regularly caused fatal infections which revealed themselves as the then common condition of "childbed fever", a condition which is virtually unknown today. Also common at that time were other infectious conditions including blood poisoning, pneumonia, dysentery, infections of the urinary and genital tracts, and skin rashes, sores and ulcers.

    The incidence of these and numerous other infectious conditions in animals and people has been reduced dramatically by the discovery, refinement and assessment of antiseptics, aseptic techniques and antimicrobial substances (including antibiotics) which can be used externally or taken internally. Improving our knowledge in this area has depended heavily on animal-based studies.

    People and animals can be infected with dangerous micro-organisms that cause pain, distress, suffering, lasting harm and/or death. Animal-based scientists demonstrated how micro-organisms cause disease and how body defences fight those disease agents. This in turn led to the development of many vaccines which improve body defences, so that the body can rapidly kill off very strong and nasty disease agents before they do much damage. At least 21 vaccines now protect people, and at least 56 vaccines now protect animals of different species (cats 4, dogs 6, horses 5, cattle 12, sheep 14, pigs 7, poultry 7). Vaccines therefore make major contributions to preventing suffering in people and animals. As new infectious diseases appear (e.g. HIV-AIDS in people and a similar disease in cats, and equine morbillivirus which can infect both horses and people) new vaccines will need to be developed to provide protection against them.

    The enormous reduction in pain, suffering, sickness, disability and death which has been achieved by the contributions of biomedical and veterinary sciences to the control and in some cases the elimination of infectious diseases through vaccination is an extraordinary achievement. It is just one of many such contributions to animal and human health and well-being.

A very brief history of biomedical developments

Direct animal studies led to many of the biomedical developments listed here, especially those made during the last 100 years. However, some of these developments first arose from direct observation of people. In those cases the details of the body mechanisms in people were mostly worked out by studying similar functions in animals. Parallel developments benefited both people and animals.

  • Ligatures used for the first time to stop bleeding in wounds (Ambroise Pare).
  • An ointment rather than boiling oil recommended for treating wounds (Ambroise Pare).
  • The first serious study of body metabolism published (Santorio Santorio).
  • Circulation of the blood first described (William Harvey).
  • How the lungs work first described.
  • First description of bacteria and of blood cells (Antonie van Leeuwenhoek).
  • Blood pressure measured for the first time.
  • First demonstration of a cure for scurvy using fruit (James Lind) – vitamin C, the important substance in fruit was not discovered for another 200 years.
  • First successful vaccination in England, thus laying the foundations for modern immunology (Edward Jenner).
  • Stethoscope invented (Rene Laennec).
  • First major surgical operation carried out using ether as a general anaesthetic (Crawford Long, USA).
  • Modern surgery revolutionised by employing aseptic techniques (Joseph Lister).
  • The discovery of X-rays (Wilhelm Roentgen), leading eventually to their use in diagnosis of internal disorders like broken bones and the presence of cancer.
  • Discovery of Radium (Pierre and Marie Curie), which eventually led to its use to treat cancer.
  • Discovery of the first four major blood groups: A, B, AB and O (Karl Landsteiner).
  • Discovery of antibodies.
  • Understanding hormone systems and how they work.
  • Ability to do corneal transplants.
  • Insulin isolated and used to successfully treat diabetes (Frederick Banting and Charles Best).
  • The antibiotic penicillin discovered (Alexander Fleming).
  • Discovery of vitamins.
  • Blood groups M and N discovered.
  • Blood transfusions used.
  • New effective antibacterial treatment against streptococci using a substance called Prontosil red (Gerhard Domagk).
  • Discovery of how nerves work.
  • Diphtheria vaccine developed.
  • Improved anaesthetics developed for surgery.
  • Understanding the mechanism of hearing.
  • Understanding how muscles are controlled.
  • Development of heart-lung machine, open heart surgery, heart pacemakers and heart valve replacements.
  • Kidney transplants from close relatives began.
  • Poliomyelitis vaccine developed.
  • Drugs to treat high blood pressure developed.
  • Drugs to treat certain types of mental illness developed.
  • New materials and surgical techniques for joint replacements developed.
  • DNA molecular structure determined (James Watson and Francis Crick), laying the foundations for modern genetics and cellular control of body functions.
  • First contraceptive pill, Enovid 10, made available commercially.
  • German measles (rubella) vaccine developed.
  • Coronary bypass operations began.
  • Heart transplant operations began (Christiaan Barnard, South Africa).
  • Drugs to treat ulcers, asthma and leukaemia developed.
  • Prostaglandins discovered.
  • Morphine-like substances produced by the brain (enkephalins) discovered.
  • Transplantation rejection understood.
  • Drugs to suppress rejection of transplanted organs developed.
  • First lung transplant operation performed.
  • First “test-tube” baby born.
  • Better understanding of the basis of memory.
  • CAT scanning for improved diagnosis.
  • Greatly improved life-support systems for premature babies.
  • Vaccines for certain types of meningitis developed.
  • Genetic therapy for cystic fibrosis began.
  • Electronic implants for treatment of deafness and muscle paralysis.
  • First artificial lung implant.
  • The genetic basis of programmed cell death is clarified, with implications for the treatment of several diseases, including Alzheimer's, rheumatoid arthritis, strokes, traumatic brain injury and certain types of cancer.
  • The first animal (a sheep) cloned from adult cells.
  • After natural mating, the first cloned sheep gave birth to her first lamb.