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Sheep in Research
Sheep are intelligent, social animals whose large size and docile nature make them an attractive model to scientists in a number of areas of research ranging from agricultural to biomedical studies. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that 14,045 sheep were used in research protocols in 2017, which represents a 36% increase from 2014.
Because of their large size, sheep are often used as surgical models. They have been used in studies of the heart, including testing of artificial hearts and heart valves, and for studies of heart disease. They have been used as models for the repair of bone and wounds. The large size of the sheep has enabled their use in studies involving implanting medical devices.
Sheep are used as models of human disease, including disorders such as hemophilia, asthma, Tay Sachs disease, inherited cataracts and polycystic kidney disease. They have also been used to test treatments for these diseases.
Sheep have been used in studies of reproduction, pregnancy and fetal development. They were used in the genetics research that produced the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, Dolly, who made international headlines in 1996. They are also used as models for vaccine research. In addition, sheep are genetically modified to become bioreactors, generating products such as human proteins in their milk, and have also been modified in ways that have improved their wool production.
Organs and tissues from sheep are harvested for their use as dissection specimens for educational purposes, even though effective dissection alternatives exist.
There is increasing evidence demonstrating that sheep, and other farmed animals, have remarkable intelligence and can learn quickly, and remember what they have learned for years. While animal welfare advocates hope that this information will provide additional incentives to reduce the use of these animals in research, there are concerns that the animals may only be further exploited in research designed to better understand their cognitive abilities.