Millions of animals are used in research every year, often as stand-ins for people. This approach is ineffective, given inherent differences between species, which explains in part why most drugs that show promise in animal models do not work in humans.
The validity of animal experiments has also been questioned lately because of problems with the way that animal experiments are conducted and reported. About a third to half of animal experiments are never even published, causing researchers to duplicate experiments, cherry-pick significant findings, and ultimately waste time, money and animal lives in the process.
In past issues of Science First, we’ve discussed widespread reproducibility issues resulting from lack of bias-reducing measures, poorly planned experiments, inappropriate statistical tests, poor reporting on animal attrition (why animals are dropped from studies) and poor reporting of pain reliever use in lab animals.
We also discussed an effort proposed a few years back, regarding whether animal study registries, which maintain details of past and present animal research, reduce waste in animal experiments. The FDA mandated that details of human clinical trials be registered in an online database because of similar concerns.
Some have felt that that this approach could have value for animal studies as well.
Scientific publications often omit important details regarding the methodology researchers use in their animal experiments. This potentially allows scientists to modify methods after they begin a study to get desired outcomes. A registry would help address this, as it would require researchers to document important details such as sample size, experimental controls and planned statistical analyses before experiments begin.
How useful would that be? A recent article in Science examined the effectiveness of two animal registries currently in place.
The first such registry developed specifically for animal experiments, preclinicaltrials.eu, was launched in Europe in April 2018. A second registry, animalstudyregistry.org, was launched in Germany at the beginning of this year. Importantly, submission of data to both registries is voluntary.
While registration is open to researchers around the world, there are currently only a few dozen entries between the two registries. This is likely due to the voluntary nature of these registries and may reflect the disadvantages some scientists feel exist with this process. There are concerns among scientists that other labs may steal research ideas, do the research faster and publish results faster. They also feel registries would unnecessarily increase administrative burden and paperwork, and that additional information on animal experiments would lead to targeting of researchers and research facilities by animal rights activists.
The current voluntary nature of the animal study registries, however, renders them largely ineffective. Without mandatory reporting, there is little incentive to report on failures.
So what is to be done?
The obvious answer would seem to be to make animal study registries mandatory. However, while NAVS supports the idea of increasing transparency regarding animal research, which could be achieved with more widespread use of animal study registries, we believe that efforts should be re-directed.
It is NAVS’ view that the current problems plaguing animal study registries—and the reluctance of researchers to make use of them—merely serve to highlight the inherent issues with continued investment in animal studies in the first place. Animal research wastes time, resources and animal lives. The research community needs to stop wasting time and resources fixing a fatally-flawed system, and instead focus their efforts on moving toward modern, human-relevant, non-animal approaches that can advance science without harming animals.
Help NAVS continue to support smarter science that advances discovery, innovation and human-relevant solutions without the use of harmful, flawed and costly animal experiments by making a donation today.
Source: Baker, M. “Animal registries aim to reduce bias,” Science, September 9, 2019.