Animal Experimentation


Animal experimentation has been a part of biomedical and behavioral research for
several millennia; experiments with animals were conducted in Greece over 2,000
years ago. Many advances in medicine and in the understanding of how organisms
function have been the direct result of animal experimentation.

Concern over the welfare of laboratory animals is also not new, as reflected in
the activities of various animal welfare and antivivisectionist groups dating
back to the nineteenth century. This concern has led to laws and regulations
governing the use of animals in research and to various guides and statements of
principle designed to ensure humane treatment and use of laboratory animals.


Use of Animals in Research

Some of the earliest recorded studies involving animals were performed by
Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), who revealed anatomical differences among animals by
dissecting them (Rowan, 1984). The Greek physician Galen (A.D. 129-199)
maintained that experimentation led to scientific progress and is said to have
been the first to conduct demonstrations with live animals--specifically pigs-a
practice later extended to other species and termed "vivisection" (Loew, 1982).
However, it was not until the sixteenth century that many experiments on animals
began to be recorded. In 1628, William Harvey published his work on the heart
and the movement of blood in animals (French, 1975). In the 18OOs, when France
became one of the leading centers of experimental biology and medicine-marked by
the work of such scientists as Francis Magendie in experimental physiology,
Claude Bernard in experimental medicine, and Louis Pasteur in microbiology and
immunology-investigators regularly used animals in biomedical research (McGrew,

Research in biology progressed at an increasing pace starting around 1850, with
many of the advances resulting from experiments involving animals. Helmholtz
studied the physical and chemical activities associated with the nerve impulse;
Virchow developed the science of cellular pathology, which led the way to a more
rational understanding of disease processes; Pasteur began the studies that led
to immunization for anthrax and inoculation for rabies; and Koch started a long
series of studies that would firmly establish the germ theory of disease. Lister
performed the first antiseptic surgery in 1878, and Metchnikoff discovered the
antibacterial activities of white blood cells in 1884. The first hormone was
extracted in 1902. Ehrlich developed a chemical treatment for syphilis in 1909,
and laboratory tissue culture began in 1910. By 1912, nutritional deficiencies
were sufficiently well understood to allow scientists to coin the word
"vitamin." In 1920, Banting and Best isolated insulin, which led to therapy for
diabetes mellitus. Mter 1920, the results of science-based biological research
and their medical applications followed so rapidly and in such numbers that they
cannot be catalogued here.

Concerns over Animal Use

The first widespread opposition to the use of animals in research was expressed
in the nineteenth century. Even before this, however, concern had arisen about
the treatment of farm animals. The first piece of legislation to forbid cruelty
to animals was adopted by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1641 and stated
that "No man shall exercise any tyranny or cruelty towards any brute creatures
which are usually kept for man's use" (Stone, 1977). In England, Martin's Act
was enacted in 1822 to provide protection for farm animals. In 1824, the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was founded to ensure that this
act was observed. In 1865, Henry Bergh brought the SPCA idea to America (Thrner,

He was motivated not by the use of animals in research but by the ill-treatment
of horses that he observed in czarist Russia.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, concerns for the welfare of farm
animals expanded to include animals used in scientific research. The
antivivisectionist movement in England, which sought to abolish the use of
animals in research, became engaged in large-scale public agitation in 1870,
coincident with the development of experimental physiology and the rapid growth
of biomedical research. In 1876, a royal commission appointed to investigate
vivisection issued a report that led to enactment of the Cruelty to Animals Act.
The act did not abolish all animal experimentation, as desired by the
antivivisection movement. Rather, it required experimenters to be licensed by
the government for experiments that were expected to cause pain in vertebrates.

As animal experimentation increased in the United States in the second half of
the nineteenth century, animal sympathizers in this country also became alarmed.
The first American antivivisectionist society was founded in Philadelphia in
1883, followed by the formation of similar societies in New York in 1892 and
Boston in 1895. Like their predecessors in England, these groups sought to
abolish the use of animals in biomedical research, but they were far less
prominent or influential than the major animal-protection societies, such as the
American SPCA, the Massachusetts SPCA, and the American Humane Association
(Turner, 1980).

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