Amy Beale, Scientific Liaison Officer at independent charity FRAME explains the importance of education in raising awareness of the use of animals in research and testing, and the alternative techniques available
Prior to joining FRAME, I spent most of my working life in the classroom teaching GCSE science and A-level biology. My love of science began at school, when I realised that if I knew the aim and scientific reasoning for an investigation, I could fudge the repeats, throw in a nice anomaly to discuss, get the required outcome and a good mark. I was hooked.
After my BSc degree, I completed a PGCE and went into teaching. I spent my days trying to enthuse teenagers to share my passion for the subject. In the current GCSE science curriculum, the government states that students must learn about the process of developing new medicines, including the use of animals in preclinical testing, yet there is little information and few resources on this subject for teachers to use.
I then came across the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) and the requirements of Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 after spending two years working in the RSPCA Education team. When I returned to teaching, I started to discuss these important concepts in my lessons on drug development, which also provided opportunities to talk about ethical dilemmas in science.
Before joining FRAME, I wasn’t aware of the scale of animal use in testing and research and the frustrating slowness in the shift towards alternative techniques.
I found the trend for genetic modification particularly worrying – why is it the norm to create an altered mouse to research a human condition or treatment?
I had also been disappointed to learn about the failures that still occur in experimental design which render some animal research outcomes essentially useless. Proving something in a mouse might get you a sensational headline, but it does not mean the outcome will be relevant to human health, as the Twitter hashtag #InMice demonstrated.
Challenging the norm
FRAME understands that whilst an immediate end to the use of animals in testing is unachievable without halting some basic forms of research, the current scale of animal use is unacceptable, at times unnecessary and should be challenged.
To improve outcomes for human health, we should be channelling more time and resources into developing human-relevant models for research that use human tissue, computer modelling and patient studies.
Sadly, there are still many misconceptions and gaps in public knowledge about the use of animals in testing and research, for example, despite the EU ban on animal testing for cosmetic purposes, some cosmetic chemicals are still being tested on animals in order to fulfil requirements set out by REACH legislation.
Education and information sharing are key if we want to drive change and raise awareness of the current state of animal testing and use of alternatives. However, in order to this we must get a clearer picture of the knowledge that exists of the use of animals in research and testing.
Public attitudes research
To mark FRAME’s 50th anniversary, we launched research to understand how informed and aware the general public is about animal testing and research for medical, chemical and cosmetic purposes.
We plan to use the findings to educate the general public, scientific industry and corporate organisations, as well as lobby UK government to improve existing legislation, reduce the use of genetically altered animals in research and provide more funding for the development of human-based alternatives to animal models.
Amy Beale is a Scientific Liaison Officer at FRAME – a medical research charity committed to replacing the use of animals in scientific experiments.