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We spend $6 billion on athletic shoes a year. The National Cancer Institute spent $2.4 billion in 1997 trying to find a cure for cancer.

Stages of Research

The research needed to create a new product or develop a new procedure goes through four basic stages before the final product is released to the public. In most cases this takes years or even decades to complete. The individual methods and techniques may vary slightly, but the overall process is the same no matter what the product or procedure.

First, scientists find out about past research. New products are actually made up of several different ingredients, so researchers look up existing safety information on each individual ingredient as well as combinations of those ingredients. Most of this information is available in books, scientific journals, and computer databases. This research process can take months or even years to complete; much of the information comes from past research projects involving animals.

The second step in the development process is to design tests that do not involve animals. For example, scientists may use computer programs to study aspects of the product. This is referred to as computer modeling. These studies may provide some answers, but cannot tell the researchers how an ingredient will react within living tissue. Therefore, scientists may do further testing using cell cultures or tissue cultures.

Because animals are made of numerous body systems, computer models and tissue cultures simply cannot mimic the complexities of a living body. It is at this point where researchers test their products on living animals. Testing the products on animals provides answers to questions that cannot be determined using computer models or simple tissue cultures. For example, will long-term use of the product cause dangerous side effects or life-threatening health problems such as cancer? How will it affect unborn babies or pregnant mothers? Does it affect children differently than adults? Sometimes the only way to find the answers, without harming people, is to test the ingredients on animals.

Once animal testing is complete, the product is still not ready for the marketplace. Often, it is tested on human volunteers who know the benefits and risks of being part of this type of test. You may have seen TV or newspaper ads requesting people with various medical conditions to volunteer to try out a new medicine. These volunteers will be monitored closely for extended periods of time to provide researchers with even more safety details. These tests are known as clinical trials; once completed, they allow scientists to be absolutely sure their product has no harmful effects.

Each of these steps is critical to producing a product that is safe for the general public to use with confidence. If any of these steps is omitted, a product that is harmful or even deadly may be released on the marketplace.

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Donít people choose careers in medical research using animals because it is an easy way to receive funding dollars and make high salaries?
No. Most researchers could make more money in other careers. People choose to go into research because they want to find answers to complicated questions. Animal research is often a vital step in finding the answers. more...