“We are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that we forget we are trying to cure humans.” - Dr. Ronald Davis, Genomics Professor, Stanford University, USA
The use of experimental animals in Canada has continued to increase, reaching an all-time high of 4,415,467 animals in 2017. These numbers are an approximate account of animal use based on statistics voluntarily submitted by Canadian researchers accredited by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The actual numbers are much higher since animals used for high school dissection, for example, are not included in these statistics.
It is undeniable that animal research has generated a wealth of knowledge that has led to medical discoveries and successes, especially given that animal research has been the established norm over the past century. However, disease mechanisms still remain unclear and effective treatments remain elusive and a failure-prone endeavour for even the most prevalent diseases today—many research breakthroughs in lab animals do not make it into our clinics.
It is not possible to accurately recapitulate complex, multifactorial human diseases in other animals. Immutable inter-species differences that occur at every level of biological action—from nucleic acid to whole organism level—are further confounded by biological variability (age, sex, and strain), and even differences in housing and husbandry practices, to say nothing of experimental conditions. Even the control animals do not serve as appropriate controls—with rampant obesity, insulin resistance, and hypertension, their health is poor by human standards.
In the second decade of the 21st century, it is paradoxical that we know more about animal biology than human biology. If the ultimate goal is to advance human medicine and safety testing, then our species must serve as the quintessential animal model, with human biology as the gold standard.