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Genetically Modified Animals in Research

The demand for better animal models for drug development and toxicity testing, and the need to define the roles of specific human genes have resulted in a worldwide increase in the generation and use of genetically modified animals.


In 2005, 957,451 procedures were performed on genetically modified animals and recorded within that year's UK Home Office statistics. Another 288,101 animals used in scientific procedures that year carried harmful genetic defects that had dramatic consequences for their welfare. By far the most commonly used laboratory species for these procedures was the mouse.


FRAME's concerns


The Home Office statistics indicate that the interest in creating and using genetically modified animals has increased dramatically over the past decade and there are no signs that this will slow in the next few years.


A similar trend is seen within the EU, but in some countries, such as the US, since experiments on mice are not recorded we can only estimate the numbers of experiments that involve genetically modified animals.


FRAME's campaign


FRAME is examining the extent to which these animals are useful and calls for scientists to validate and use the most appropriate models.


There are examples of where experiments on genetically modified animals can be justified. For instance, the World Health Organisation already advocates the use of genetically engineered mice for certain polio vaccine tests to reduce the need for experiments on non-human primates.


Equally, there are a number of examples where experiments on genetically modified animals can reduce the number of animals that are used in a study. A good example is the use of genetically modified rodents rather than genetically normal animals to improve the sensitivity of some types of assays for DNA damage.


Nevertheless, there are cases where using genetically modified animals are poor models of human diseases or when no amount of research on these animals will lead to any improvements to human health. A good example of this is the study of Down's syndrome in mice where there are few prospects for ever coming up with a useful cure.


FRAME is looking at a number of issues in this area to encourage scientists to assess whether the genetically modified animal model they have chosen to use is the most scientific and morally acceptable choice, and to examine the welfare issues surrounding the whole area of genetic modification.


Read paper (pdf)