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Laboratory animal science is the area of biomedical research that specializes in the care and study of animals used in medical research, testing, and teaching. Animals are a critical part of biomedical research for many reasons. Before scientists can develop ways to treat health conditions in both humans and in animals, they need to understand the condition. Researchers use animals to learn more about these conditions; to discover more effective methods for diagnosing, treating, and curing diseases that affect both humans and animals; and to ensure the safety of new medical treatments and procedures.

Thanks to animal research, scientists have discovered ways to save and prolong human life. Through research on animals, vaccinations for diseases such as polio were discovered, organ transplants were perfected, and trauma surgery techniques were determined. But despite the benefits achieved from animal research, a great debate has ensued regarding the necessity of using animals in research and testing.

Animal rights groups have attempted to distort the facts about animal research. They refuse to acknowledge the important contribution of this research and argue that no research using animals is justified. They claim that the medical community no longer supports the use of animals in research. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the American Medical Association’s current policies encourages doctors to put copies of materials describing the medical benefits of animal research in their office waiting rooms.

Some people argue that animal research should be stopped because of the pain inflicted on the animals. But most research projects either do not involve pain or the pain is alleviated with analgesic or anesthetic drugs. Researchers understand that pain causes stress for the animal, and this stress can seriously affect the results of the project. This argument also ignores the fact that both humans and animals suffer from diseases that cause years or even a lifetime of pain.

Other people argue that medical scientists already know enough; we need to use what we already know. But do we know enough about diseases such as cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? If enough is known about these diseases, why are thousands of people dying from them each year?

Some people also argue that animal research is no longer necessary because modern technology can replace the use of animals. Researchers frequently use modern technology, such as computer models and tissue cultures in their research. However, many factors affecting both human and animal lives can only be studied using research animals. The use of research animals has been and will continue to be essential to finding the causes and cures for many diseases.

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Are researchers using more and more animals every year?
The number of animals used in research has actually declined in the past 20 years. As technology advances, researchers are able to rely on computer models and other methods instead of animal testing. Some estimates show a reduction in animal use as high as 50 percent. Since 1967, the number of cats used in research has dropped 66 percent.