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Animal Research Matters

Reconciling a love for pets with the need for responsible research with animals isn't easy. But it might help to understand that there are compelling reasons to do so.

Helping people in the fight against cancer is one example. Well over half a million Americans receive chemotherapy to combat the illness each year. This life-saving treatment and many steps on the road to recovery — imaging endangered organs, perfecting surgical procedures, using medications to control pain, infection and other symptoms — would simply not exist without animal research. Even despite remarkable progress, there are still no effective treatments for certain types of cancers. Research with animals is essential to finding new solutions.

People aren’t the only ones to benefit from medical research. These advances help animals, too. Pets break bones, have urinary tract infections, and get cancer and cataracts just like we do, and veterinarians use many of the same tools and medications to treat illness and injury as medical doctors. It's hard to imagine how drastically different the lives of people and pets would be without this significant progress.

Below are a few examples of life-saving treatments and technologies made possible by animal research, including medical advances made at the University of Utah.

  • ANTIDEPRESSANTS - Developed in the 1980s and 1990s, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are now one of the world’s most commonly prescribed medications for clinical depression. These drugs were first tested in rats for safety and efficacy. Clinical trials have since expanded their use for treating other debilitating conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • ASTHMA INHALERS - Relief is available for the five million U.S. school-age children with asthma because of research with rabbits and guinea pigs that led to inhaler medications.
  • BREAST CANCER THERAPIES - Animal studies were instrumental in developing Herceptin and Tamoxifin, two drugs for treating breast cancer, the most prevalent cancer in American women today.
  • EPILEPSY TREATMENTS - Because seizures emerge similarly in the brains of people and rodents, these animals have been instrumental in developing drugs to prevent epileptic seizures in both people and pets.
  • INSULIN FOR DIABETES - Millions of Americans and thousands of pets depend on insulin therapy to keep their diabetes in check. Initially tested in dogs and other animals, insulin therapy keeps blood sugar under control to prevent blindness, nerve and kidney damage, and other complications.
  • THERAPY FOR AIDS - HIV/AIDS has gone from a death sentence to a manageable condition in fewer than 40 years, making its treatment one of the most powerful success stories in medicine. Research with mice and monkeys was instrumental in paving the way for the preventive therapies and treatments that are prescribed today.
  • VACCINES - Every day, vaccines protect people and pets from infectious diseases that can turn into life-threatening illnesses. Testing in animals is critical for evaluating whether a candidate treatment is effective and has unwanted side effects. In 2015, research with monkeys identified a new vaccine that was 100 percent effective against the tropical disease Ebola, a desperately-needed advance that helped contain the spread of a horrifying epidemic.

University of Utah Medical Advances

Scientists at the University of Utah care deeply for the people and animals around them. That’s exactly why they are committed to making lives better through thoughtful research. Here are a few examples of work from the U that is expanding the boundaries of science, medicine and technology.

  • AIDING AMPUTEES WITH ROBOTICS - A robotic arm that an amputee can control simply by thinking is nothing short of incredible. This feat is now a reality, made possible by technologies developed by U scientists in animal studies. Researchers continue improving the devices so that patients can use robotics to perform everyday tasks, as if the prosthetic were a natural part of the body.
  • PREVENTING CHRONIC DISEASE IN INFANTS - Every year, 10,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with a chronic lung disease that develops when premature infants are put on ventilation. Sixty percent die, and among survivors, a high proportion have lifelong learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. Research with animals is enabling scientists to develop new preventive treatments based on a sophisticated understanding of molecular changes that occur during disease.
  • DISCOVERING OPIOID ALTERNATIVES - The best solution to the problems of opioid abuse and addiction is to treat pain through a diverse new set of non-opioid drugs. U investigators are testing many kinds natural products, including venom from marine snails, to create a steady pipeline of non-opioid solutions for pain.
  • UNDERSTANDING THE LIMITS OF ANTIDEPRESSANTS - Research with rodents shows that many common antidepressants, specifically a set of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), do not work as well at moderate to high altitudes. The findings could have implications for how clinical depression should be treated.
  • INTERVENTIONS FOR BIRTH DEFECTS - U investigators are developing novel interventions for congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a birth defect that affects 1 in every 1,600 babies. Half of these children die from complications that arise after their diaphragm fails to form properly.
  • INVENTING ‘GENE TARGETING’ - This Nobel Prize-winning technology for making precise changes in the DNA of mice has been used by thousands of scientists across the world to understand how the body works and what goes wrong during disease.
  • TESTING NOVEL BREAST CANCER THERAPIES - MRI-guided focused ultrasound has potential as a non-invasive therapy for localized breast cancer. Research with rabbits is assessing whether this exciting new technology could be an effective alternative to surgery.
  • UNDERSTANDING HOW THE BRAIN LEARNS - Research with rodents has yielded novel insights into how the brain learns through experience. Further work is being done to determine whether these same molecular processes are involved in neurological and psychiatric disorders and point to new approaches to treat them.