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Essay: Introduction to laboratory animal science ethics

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  • Published: 3 February 2022*
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  • Tags: Animal testing essays

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Learning outcome 1: “Know how the concerns over the use of laboratory animals are minimized”

1.1 List the arguments for and against the use of laboratory animals as research models

Arguments for

  • Without the use of animals many scientific and medical advantages we have today would not have been achieved.
  • The use of animals can assist in the development of new medicine and cures for diseases.
  • It can help us to understand and prevent diseases.
  • It can offer us further knowledge for the advancement of science.
  • It can help prevent the further suffering of humans and animals.
  • Animals can be modified to fit research needs.
  • Using animals for research can allow scientists to follow a disease from the beginning and work on preventing it.
  • Animal research is never taken lightly.
  • All animals are treated humanely and are never used unnecessarily.
  • All scientific research undertaken must be legal under ASPA, comply with the 3R’s and the five freedoms.

Arguments against

  • Using animals in research shows a selfish ideology.
  • It is unethical.
  • It is cruel and might cause unnecessary pain and suffering.
  • It is in itself unnecessary.
  • It is wasteful as many animals die for being surplus.
  • The experiments undertaken might not work.
  • It is unreliable; Animal testing does not provide us with valid results for human use, as animals may pass trials but humans might not.
  • Other methods can be used.
  • It is dangerous not only for animals but for humans as well.
  • Ceasing animal research might result in the progress of science.

1.2 Describe methods for implementing refinement, reduction and replacement techniques.

“Replacement” is implemented in research by using methods which avoid the use of animals or replace them as research models with other suitable alternatives, “Reduction” by trying to minimize the numbers of animals used as much as possible and “Refinement” by improving the experimental procedures used on animals and even the environment and living conditions of the animals to reduce suffering and improve welfare.

All these are implemented in scientific research facilities in many ways.

Firstly, by being a legal requirement (ASPA) that research facilities, researchers and technicians have to abide by; secondly, by training all staff members in knowing and understanding the 3 R’s and how to implement them within the facility; and thirdly, by making sure that every research methodology and scientific design is checked, reviewed and improved to make sure it complies with the 3 R’s.

Outside of the research facilities, the 3 R’s are implemented not only by the government, but also by animal welfare organisations, such as the RSPCA, who do their best to ensure that these methods are followed and implemented and that animals used in research are treated fairly.

The Home Office (UK) and NC3RS both act to implement the 3 R’s in research facilities in the UK as well as help improve the way they are implemented.

Some of their methods include addressing government priorities, increasing the efficiency and validity of the review methods used on scientific designs and tests, promoting the validation of new methods used as replacements, encouraging the co-operation between governmental and non-governmental agencies when evaluating methods as well as improving the communication between agencies to optimize results and many more.

Describe examples of the 3 R’s in practice


Cell culture is one of the methods used to replace animals in research, the method entails taking live cells from an animal and growing them in vitro to be later used in studies. Similar methods include; cellular or subcellular fractions, tissue slices and perfused organs. Another method preferred as an alternative to animal research is the use of the early stages of vertebrates or invertebrates. As all of the methods mentioned above still use animals, parts or forms of animals they are ‘relative replacements’.

‘Absolute replacements’ include human volunteers, human cell culture and mathematical or computer models.


Refinement methods include minimizing or alleviating pain, suffering, distress and lasting harm by, for example, including more enrichment in animal housing and enclosures, providing analgesics where needed and reviewing study methodologies to improve animal welfare, minimize animals being used while providing more specific and valid results.

Other methods might include non-invasive techniques, training of staff in procedures used and training of animals in order to make them familiar to the techniques.


Examples of reduction in the work place could include, sharing of information between researchers so that no study is repeated and no animals suffer in vain, reviewing and optimizing study methodologies in order to find and use the minimum number of animals needed, obtaining more information from the same amount of animals, and the use of virtual imaging that enables long term studying.

Learning outcome 2: “Understand that there is a broad range of ethical, welfare and scientific perspectives on the use of animals in scientific procedures, and that thinking on all these matters evolves over time and is influenced by culture and context”

2.1 Discuss different arguments for and against the use of animals as research models

“Using animals in research saves lives”

Animal research is considered vital for learning more about the human body, improving human health and learning more about how diseases develop. Without it many very important medicines and drugs would have never been developed, for example: insulin, the polio vaccine, hepatitis B vaccine and many more. Most of the scientific knowledge we possess on major diseases and conditions is owed to animal research, conditions like: breast cancer, cystic fibrosis and tuberculosis. A very good example of how animal research has helped prevent harm in humans is the use of thalidomide that was only realized to be dangerous after being used on pregnant female animals.

“Animal research is Cruel”

Animals used in research might undergo pain and suffering depending on what study they are used for and what project license they are under. Studies often include growing tumors on mice with weak immune systems in order to monitor the growth and behaviour of the masses, periods of food deprivation, physical restraint, and even euthanasia that can be performed by cervical dislocation or carbon dioxide inhalation. These methods might cause distress and pain to the mice especially if they are performed incorrectly.

“Animals are treated humanely”

It is a misconception that animals in scientific facilities are mistreated or are purposely harmed. All animal facilities comply with ASPA, the five freedoms and the 3 R’s and therefore are obliged to provide the animals with a minimum requirement of welfare. All staff that is working with the animals is always trained to provide a good standard of care and the research animals are never mistreated or neglected. Even when using euthanasia methods technicians are trained to cull quickly and painlessly so that the animals are always treated humanely.

“Alternatives can be used”

Many different methods have been developed over the years to replace animal research, such as cell culture where human cells can be used and studied, artificial skin that can be used instead of animals when testing chemicals, computer programs that produce virtual replicas of cellular and molecular structures and many more.

“Alternatives do not produce valid results”

Human beings being very complex living organisms are very difficult to recreate. Computer systems, cell culture and artificial alternatives might provide some useful results but can never be completely accurate. Many animals share very similar DNA with humans and animal organisms are susceptible to the same diseases and conditions which makes them a much more valid and accurate method of collecting results for research.

Describe how ethical standards have changed animal welfare overtime

Animals have been used for research purposes since the 17th century in the UK and began being used in Europe over the next few centuries. This research provided scientists with a lot of new knowledge about biological structures such as the circulatory system and later led to the forming of anaesthetics. Following the sudden rise of numbers of animals being used and the cruelty and neglect that was seen in many establishments, the government issued the first Cruelty to Animals act in 1876 in order to create more order in the scientific world and regulate procedures. At the time philosophers such as René Descartes, John Locke and Immanuel Kant started having influence over peoples morality concerning animals and especially those used in research. The government also made attempts of passing legislation restricting the abuse of animals such as bull fighting, dog fighting and cockfighting.

The use of animals continued and grew over the next two centuries aiding in the discovery of insulin, penicillin, the polio vaccine and even the discovery of the danger of thalidomide. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed in 1836 and the fight for animal welfare and respect began. In 1986 the Animals in scientific procedures act was passed followed by the Animal welfare act in 2006.

The development of all this protective legislation, accompanied by the people appointed to implement it, has changed society’s views of animals used in research and therefore the way they are faced and treated.

The development of ethical review bodies and the appointment of named persons as well as the mandatory training of all people working with animals have not only improved animal welfare but also have radically changed peoples beliefs and views towards them.


Classroom notes


  • https://science.rspca.org.uk/sciencegroup/researchanimals/implementing3rs
  • https://www.nc3rs.org.uk/the-3rs
  • http://ilarjournal.oxfordjournals.org/content/43/Suppl_1/S85.full
  • http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/how/three-rs/
  • http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/for-and-against-animal-testing-693965
  • http://www.aboutanimaltesting.co.uk/an-overview-alternatives-animal-testing.html


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