After a two year investigation, research agencies have ordered UK scientists to improve their practices during animal experimentation. In some instances, scientists have overlooked the number of animals needed to test new medicine. This has led to wasted opportunity and unreliable results due to studies lacking power to find biological effects in the drugs that are being tested.
Research Councils UK, the group that deals with the funding of UK research has announced a change to its guidelines for carrying out research on animals. Scientists are now required to show their work will generate useful data and physiological insights.If they don’t they will lose their funding. Malcom Macleod, a neuroscientist of Edinburgh University is pleased with the change. “There has been an increasing awareness that some animal experiments are not sufficiently robust. These guidelines should therefore be welcomed.”
2013 saw 4.12 million scientific experiments carried out on rats and mice in the UK. Half involved breeding genetically modified animals and the other focused on unmodified animal experiments. 58% was carried out for research, 26% for human medicine and 8% for veterinary advancements.
Most of the experiments are done with human benefit in mind – testing drugs before making them fit for human trials. But it takes a large amount of animals to see whether a drug has any kind of pharmacological effect. Macleod gives a run down. “In a typical £300000 project…about a third of funds goes on equipment, a third on salaries and a third on animals. To keep costs down…you might try to limit numbers of animals. Often your results are produced purely by chance…you would have to double the number of animals” to make the data more robust.
RSPCA representative, Penny Hawkins has said the change has been a long time coming. “Animals have suffered unnecessarily and patients have been let down because public money has been wasted on worthless research.”
It can be argued people benefit from animal experimentation when there is useful data collected. But the change is guidelines ensures animals are better protected and preserved.