Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter
From 27 November 2002 Issue
Labs curtail use of live animals
Nearly 70% of medical schools have abandoned the use of live animals as teaching tools for students, opting for alternatives such as computer simulators and videos, experts say.
Dogs in particular have been a popular tool for first- and second-year medical school students. But live dogs, pigs, rats, rabbits and other animals are used now in only 18% of physiology courses, 5% of pharmacology courses and 18% of surgery courses.
Use has declined since 1985 from 63%, 50% and 38% respectively, says Lawrence Hansen, professor of neuroscience and pathology at the University of California-San Diego.
Hansen and colleague Gerry Boss, a professor of medicine, followed up on surveys conducted in 1985 and 1994 at medical schools to determine whether declining trends were continuing. They surveyed 125 medical schools in the USA and published the results in the November issue of the journal Academic Medicine.
Primary purpose of live animals at medical schools:
* Pharmacology. Instructors use live anesthetized dogs to demonstrate the effects of various drugs on organ systems.
* Physiology. Students cut open anesthetized dogs to view organ systems of a live mammal.
* Surgery. Students practice cutting and sewing before moving to surgical rotations.
The animals are killed at the end of all procedures.
Medical school faculties cite costs of maintaining live animal labs and increasing ethical concerns over killing live animals for purely teaching purposes for the decline in use. Much of the pressure comes from medical students who object to sacrificing animals when alternatives are available, Hansen says.
Other studies have documented that students who opt for alternatives score just as high on tests as students who practice on live animals.
Hansen says that despite the trend, the issue is a contentious one at schools where dogs continue to be used, including UCSD.
''Some students are very upset about this. When they are able to opt out, they have been told by instructors, 'That's good, because we don't want a bunch of girls standing around crying,' '' Hansen says.
While most schools that operate dog labs allow students to opt out, intimidation from professors and other students who practice on live animals is not uncommon.
But students who choose to participate in labs using live animals also face pressure and can be made to feel cruel.
''Some students have complained to me that they feel harassed by students who tell them not to do it,'' says Lawrence Brunton, professor of pharmacology and medicine at UCSD, who runs the dog lab for students.
He says he has found no difference in test scores among students who take the lab and those who don't. But he says 80% of students elected to participate last year, and that most rated the hands-on experience as valuable.
The federal Animal Welfare Act, which regulates animal laboratories, requires that the labs ''reduce, replace and refine'' the use of animals when possible, Hansen says.
Brunton says the faculty has significantly reduced the number of animals used at the medical school.
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