About Research

What is Biomedical Research?

Biomedical research is an integrated approach using chemical, mathematical and computer simulations; in vitro tests; whole animal models; and human epidemiological studies and clinical trials.

It currently is the best approach to advance science, to develop new products and drugs and to treat, cure and prevent disease — in both humans and animals.

Why Are Animals Used?

Animals are used in biomedical research to learn more about biological systems and the illnesses that afflict human beings and other animals. They serve as surrogates for humans in obtaining information that cannot be gained in any other way. Species that reproduce quickly and have genomes that are very similar to humans are especially useful in understanding diseases and in finding treatments for them. Such animal models for human disease allow scientists to use fewer animals to derive more reliable and faster information than was possible ever before.

It is important to remember that the vast majority of all animals used in research in the United States — approximately 95 percent — are rats and mice bred specifically for research. Less than one quarter of 1 percent are nonhuman primates. Less than one half of 1 percent are dogs and cats. The remainder include rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep, pigs, fish and insects.

How Has Biomedical Research Made a Difference?

There isn't a day that goes by that biomedical research doesn't affect our lives.

The public's awareness of healthy lifestyle choices, many of which have been identified through research, has helped reduce mortality rates and has become the best medicine in preventing needless disease and disabilities. With the reduction in cigarette smoking, deaths caused by heart disease have dropped substantially. The healthy lifestyle choices we've made have forced change in public accommodations and even the way restaurants cook.

For example, without biomedical research each of the following things would happen in the United States:

  • Polio would kill or cripple thousands of unvaccinated children and adults this year.
  • Most of the 3 million insulin-dependent diabetics would be dead.
  • About 72 million people would be at risk of death from heart attack, stroke or kidney failure from lack of medication to control their high blood pressure.
  • More than 1.4 million people would lose vision in at least one eye because cataract surgery would be impossible.
  • Death would be a certainty for the nearly 20,000 patients who receive kidney transplants each year.
  • Doctors would have no chemotherapy to save the 85 percent of children who now survive acute lymphocyte leukemia.
  • The number and variety of medications that keep HIV infections under control would not be available.
  • New surgical procedures to repair congenital heart defects, spine defects and brain trauma would have to be abandoned or tried for the first time on children.
  • Methods to prevent many cancers never would be found because theories about genetic and environmental causative factors cannot be tested in humans.
  • Instead of being eradicated, naturally occurring smallpox would instead continue unchecked and many others would join the 2 million people already killed by the disease since 1900.

"Living Proof: Faces of Research"

This video provides insight into the benefits of bioscience research and the important role laboratory animals play in the scientific process.

It introduces viewers to four people age 55 and older who have benefited from medical advances made possible by years of animal-based research. Viewers also meet four scientists who are helping make these advances a reality.

Additional Resources