Some of the important laboratory work on campus does involve the use of research animals.
There are circumstances where the use of animal models is mandated by the federal government. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration requires the testing of potential medications, medical devices and other promising treatments on animals before they can be offered to humans. For more information on how the FDA provides oversight on animal research, please visit the Federal Laws and Accreditation page.
UTMB is home to the Galveston National Laboratory, where scientists are working hard to translate research ideas into products designed to combat emerging infectious diseases and defend our country against bioterrorism. When researchers are developing vaccines and therapeutics against very dangerous diseases, there are situations where testing on humans would not be ethical or feasible. In such cases, the FDA can currently invoke The Animal Rule, which will consider data from well-designed animal studies to be sufficient to demonstrate that the potential treatment will benefit people.
UTMB embraces what is known as the “3Rs” - Replace, Refine and Reduce - as guiding principles any time that animals are used in the laboratory.
When scientists have a research question that they wish to solve, they consider all the available ways to approach the situation. In some cases, there are ways to study a hypothesis without needing to use animals and these strategies are used whenever possible. This is the 3R component, Replace. However, while non-animal research tools such as computer and mathematical models or cell and tissue cultures do replace animal research in some instances, there are many areas of research where there are no complete alternatives to the use of animals.
At this point, the researchers turn their attention to the two other 3R components, Refine and Reduce. They work hard to refine their studies in order to minimize animal discomfort or pain and to use the smallest number of animals possible. UTMB is vigilant in assuring that the research animals are treated as humanely as possible and all proper procedures, regulations and federal and state guidelines are followed.
Without careful animal testing, there is no way to confirm that a new medication or medical device is safe for all people to use.
An example of the dangers of not fully testing medication before people use it is the famous thalidomide disaster of the mid-twentieth century. Thalidomide was widely taken to make people feel relaxed and to reduce morning sickness in pregnant women. The trouble was that animal testing did not include studying the effects of the medication during pregnancy. More than 10,000 children were born with thalidomide-related disabilities worldwide. To learn more about this disaster, please click here for a video.