Why do we conduct research with animals?

As rodents are social animals, it is important to handle them with care. © Selina Slamanig, GBS St. Gallen

As rodents are social animals, it is important to handle them with care. © Selina Slamanig, GBS St. Gallen

Research with animals has played a significant role in advancing our knowledge of the living world and in improving the health and lives of humans and animals. Almost every medical advancement in the last century has involved some studies with animals as a part of the overall research effort. However, the continued use of animals in research is not because of habit, but clearly stems from the need to use the most effective scientific methods to make discovery possible.

In many of EPFL’s research projects, non-animal research methods are used as a major part of experiments, complementing in vivo methods. The contribution of animals to research is especially relevant when seeking information about the whole body and the interactions between various organs. To date, it remains difficult or impossible to recreate these conditions with alternative in vitro methods like cell culture, or computer models and simulations (in silico).

Rodents, the most common laboratory animals, share mammalian features with humans and suffer from many of the same kind of diseases as humans. As such, they are widely used as models to study some aspects of human physiology or disease. © speakingofresearch.com

Although not identical, humans and animals are relatively similar, both anatomically and genetically; for example, humans share over 90% of their genes with rodents, the most common laboratory animals. The way they perform many vital functions – breathing, digestion, movement, sight, hearing, reproduction etc – is identical to us. As a result, animals are very useful models to study human diseases, especially given the legal, ethical, and historical limits of human testing and the inadequacy of alternative methods to meet society’s demands for efficiency and safety in health.

Animals are also themselves the subject of scientific interest, e.g. in veterinary medicine or in basic research in biology. This results in a broad spectrum of research areas that may benefit from research with animals.

  • The umbrella organization of the Swiss universities, swissuniversities, offers several factsheets on research and animal experimentation on its website (“Documents” tab). 
  • Speaking of research is an international advocacy group that provides accurate information about the importance of animal research in the biomedical, behavioral, and life sciences.
  • Understanding Animal Research is a British Mutual Society that explains why animals are used in medical and scientific research.
  • Tierversuche verstehen is a German science initiative coordinated by the Alliance of Science Organisations. It provides comprehensive, up-to-date and fact-based information on animal experimentation.
  • The Swiss Laboratory Animal Science Association (SGV) is dedicated to the promotion of laboratory animal science, as well as the furthering of animal protection and ethical considerations in animal experiments. These aims shall be attained by organizing education and the flow of information within the scientific community.

Speech of the Federal Counselor Alain Berset to the Federal Assembly concerning the popular initiative “Oui à l’interdiction de l’expérimentation animale et humaine – Oui aux approches de recherche qui favorisent la sécurité et le progrès” on 10 March 2021. (French)

Are animal tests still necessary? A documentary by the Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), to which several universities in French-speaking Switzerland, including EPFL, have opened their doors. (French)