Which training programs in the medical and life sciences have historically used live animals? How has the development of human-relevant simulators helped to significantly reduce or eliminate their use?
A recent article in Simulation in Healthcare discussed these questions, as well as the implications for students, teachers and the public. Some of the areas addressed in the article include:
Undergraduate Medical Training
Can you imagine a medical school curriculum that includes injecting live dogs with drugs or performing invasive surgical procedures on pigs? While such exercises were common before the 1980s, since 2016, 100% of medical schools in the United States and Canada have been using nonanimal training approaches. This progress is a result of the advancement of medical simulators, the expense of running animal care facilities, and pressure to implement the 3 R’s (reduction, refinement and replacement) of animal use in medical training.
Advanced Trauma Life Support Training
The Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) Training course was developed by the American College of Surgeons and introduced in 1980. The goal of the course is to teach a safe and reliable way to care for trauma patients. Historically, this training has involved the use of thousands of live animals, including sheep, goats, dogs and pigs. However, development of human-relevant simulators like TraumaMan now provide much-needed alternatives which have been found to teach ATLS skills better than animal models. Now, 99% of ATLS training facilities use nonanimal alternatives to teach these skills.
Live ferrets and cats had traditionally been used to teach medical professionals how to perform neonatal and pediatric intubation procedures, despite known limitations of anatomical differences between species. Fortunately, infant simulators which more accurately reflect human anatomy have replaced animal use in more than 99% of U.S. and Canadian pediatric residency programs, and are exclusively endorsed by leading agencies that sponsor these courses.
Advances in the medical simulation field, increased financial constraints and growing animal welfare concerns have led to a general shift away from animal use for medical training purposes. But there is still room for improvement, as many more animal lives could be saved if more programs embraced the cutting-edge simulation tools that better reflect human anatomy and physiology.
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Source: Pawlowski, J., et al. “Developments in the Transition from Animal use to Simulation-Based Biomedical Education.” Simulation Healthcare. April 2018.