Research using animals

Any new treatment for people must, by law, be tested in animals first. This helps to highlight potential side effects and makes sure researchers are investing time and money to develop the drugs that are most likely to be a success in people.

Imagine you are a researcher developing new drugs for Alzheimer’s. On testing in mice, the first drug has no effect on Alzheimer’s changes in the brain and makes the animals more sick. The second drug appears safe and the mice show improvements in memory and behaviour. Which drug would you choose for testing in people? Benefits seen in mice do not always bear out in people and unexpected side effects may occur, but this is the best option available for shortlisting drugs for trials.

Working with animals allows researchers to study the effects of drugs in a living system. They can study how well a drug is absorbed in the body and whether it reaches the organs it is designed to act on. If a drug is not able to reach its target, it has a low chance of success. This is a particular challenge for dementia drugs, as the brain is protected by a tight barrier of cells called the blood brain barrier. New dementia drugs must be carefully designed to cross this barrier and studies using animals help researchers make sure that new drugs are reaching the brain.

Millions of prescriptions are dispensed every year for people living with dementia in the UK. These drugs can help people with some of their symptoms and were developed and tested using animals. Without these studies, there would be no medicines available for people living with dementia. Research using animals continues to be vital in the ongoing search for new treatments that can slow or stop the disease process.


Video courtesy of Understanding Animal Research