Vivisection is the practice of experimenting on live animals for scientific and medical purposes.


What medical benefits has vivisection provided?

In 1889, two scientists, Joseph von Mering and Oskar Minkowski, showed that removing a dog’s pancreas gave the animal diabetes. This was the first time that anyone had realised the pancreas was an important organ in terms of helping digest sugars. In 1921, two Canadian scientists, Frederick Banting and Charles Best attempted to produce insulin and showed that giving insulin to a dog that had had its pancreas removed helped lower its blood sugar. Before long, James Collip, a biochemist, had extracted insulin from beef pancreas which was pure enough to be able to treat diabetic patients. He needed to find out what concentration of insulin to use, and used rabbits to carry out his tests. His extracts were used successfully in dogs and humans in 1922. The results were described by the British Medical Journal as "a magnificent contribution to the treatment of diabetes". In Britain today, there are  hundreds of thousands of diabetics who have to inject insulin and worldwide there could be more than 200 million. Insulin injections developed through animal testing continue to save millions of lives. 

Animal experiments have also been key to the development of vaccines. Before the smallpox vaccine was developed from animal tests, the disease had been around for 12,000 years and had killed between 300 and 500 million people during the twentieth century alone. Smallpox was finally wiped out in 1980.  The polio vaccination, which was introduced in the 1950s, also saved millions of lives. It was developed after nearly 40 years of research on a range of animals from mice to monkeys. In 2021, people are beginning to be vaccinated against Covid-19, the coronavirus which has caused a pandemic, meaning that people have had to be locked down in their homes to keep each other safe. Each of the vaccinations used has been tested on animals and at least one of the vaccinations uses an adenovirus from chimpanzees to make it work. 

Treatments for other human diseases are sometimes discovered by making animals ill on purpose and then studying the way that the disease progresses, compared with the way it does in people. All mammals, says Understanding Animal Research, have the same organs as humans, performing the same functions and controlled by the same mechanisms. It claims that studying the differences between animals and humans could lead to exciting new developments. For example, a mouse with muscular dystrophy suffers less muscle wasting than a human patient. If we could find out why, we could discover a treatment for the disorder.

Read More: What are some possible alternatives to vivisection?

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