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The use of laboratory animals including mice, rats, rabbits and primates for scientific/biomedical research is guided by some principles and ethical guidelines that ensure the optimum care, protection and security of animals used in scientific investigations. Animal research is a very important procedure in biomedical research through which novel drugs are tested and scientific knowledge acquired and improved upon. It is important that researchers imbibe certain internationally accepted ethical guidelines in their use of animals for scientific investigations.

Russell and Birch in 1953 came up with some guiding principles known as the “3Rs”, and which should guide any clinical, scientific or biomedical research involving animals. According to Russell and Birch, the use of laboratory animals for research should be focused and result-oriented while bearing in mind some important factors to the benefit of the animals, humans and the environment. These factors include: ensuring best practices in the use of animals for scientific research and putting the animal’s wellbeing (health and feeding) into consideration before any other gain that accrue from the research.

The “3Rs” proposed by Russell and Birch in 1953 for the use of animals for scientific research is an internationally accepted laboratory guideline for animal research industry across the world, and it stands for: REDUCTION, REFINEMENT and REPLACEMENT.

  • Reduction: Reduction involves the use of fewer animals for the undertaking of any laboratory research. It advocates for a reduction in the number of animals used for scientific research, and that more information (results) should be actualized by the use of lesser animals than being contemplated in any anticipated biomedical research that involves animals. The aim is to eliminate unwanted killings of animals for research, thus reducing the number of animals required to carry out a particular laboratory experiment. This principle encourages the development of novel laboratory methods or procedures such as cell culture and other in vitro techniques that require fewer animals for scientific/biomedical research.
  • Refinement: Refinement involves the modification of already existing scientific research involving animals in order to reduce pain, stress and other discomforts experienced by the animal in the course of the laboratory procedure. It involves the use of techniques that reduce the invasiveness of animal’s bodies and other such methods that involves their timely killing for result taking. Refinement helps to ensure that animals meant for scientific research are adequately taken care of, fed, and treated humanely.
  • Replacement: Replacement is the optimum guideline for scientific research because it encourages the development and use of procedures that does not involve animals. It involves the use of techniques such as cell culture, Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL), computer modeling, mathematical modeling, and other alternative high-tech immunoassay testing techniques that rules out the usage of laboratory animals. Replacement advocates a partial or a total exclusion of animals from laboratory research that will eventual cause pain, stress and death of laboratory animals. 


Animals including (primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, mice) are still being used to conduct scientific/biomedical research because of some of the following reasons:

  • There is still no complete alternative to the use of animals in testing drugs and other chemicals meant for human and animal consumption.
  • Scientific experimentation using animals draw grant, and is thus a lucrative business for researchers.
  • It helps researchers to evade all potential legal battery that might accrue from the usage of animals for research especially when there is death or disability of the animal.
  • Scientific/biomedical experimentations involving the use of animals are more easily published than non-animal experimentation.
  • Experimentation involving the use of laboratory animals appears to be more scientific and result-oriented than non-animal experimentation since animal and humans share some similarities in physiology and biochemistry.
  • Researcher’s professional status in terms of finance and research grants is usually tied to animal experimentation in some quarters.
  • Results from animal research can easily be extrapolated to humans than in vitro research carried out in non-animal hosts.       

Further reading

Cooper G.M and Hausman R.E (2004). The cell: A Molecular Approach. Third edition. ASM Press.

Das H.K (2010). Textbook of Biotechnology. Fourth edition. Wiley edition. Wiley India Pvt, Ltd, New Delhi, India.

Davis J.M (2002). Basic Cell Culture, A Practical Approach. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 

Mather J and Barnes D (1998). Animal cell culture methods, Methods in cell biology. 2rd eds, Academic press, San Diego.

Noguchi P (2003).  Risks and benefits of gene therapy.  N  Engl J Med, 348:193-194.

Sambrook, J., Russell, D.W. (2001). Molecular Cloning: a Laboratory Manual, 3rd edn. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, New York.

Tamarin Robert H (2002). Principles of Genetics. Seventh edition. Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Co Ltd, Delhi.     

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