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Animal test “breakthroughs” exaggerated in UK press

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Our study reveals claimed benefits of animal research reported in UK media are over-hyped and often false

A study by our science team of animal research ‘breakthroughs’ reported in the UK press reveals how national print media exaggerates the value and successes of animal testing.

The paper published in biomedical journal BMJ Open Science shows the high degree of over-speculation about animal testing in the media and how rarely animal-based ‘breakthroughs’ help humans.

Our study looked at UK articles from 1995 that reported animal research ‘breakthroughs’ (such as for cancer or Alzheimer’s) and claimed how findings would result in eventual human benefit.

Twenty-five years later we can see how the articles over-speculated the relevance and benefits of animal studies for humans, often exaggerating the eventual outcomes.

Our study found:

  • News articles reporting animal research ‘breakthroughs’ are often exaggerated.
  • The level of over-speculation is shown by the failure of most ‘breakthroughs’ to result in human benefit, even 25 years later.
  • Just one of the 27 ‘breakthroughs’ resulted in clinical use and, even then, with big caveats.
  • Twenty of the ‘breakthroughs’ failed outright to translate to any human benefit.

Dr Katy Taylor, our Director of Science & Regulatory Affairs said: “We constantly see demonstration of the poor human relevance of animal research, and the benefits of humane and human-specific research. Yet the media still frequently claims that animal testing is key for medical progress.

Exaggerating the value of animal research creates false confidence in animal tests among the public and biomedical professionals. There are implications for government policies, for regulators and funders.

We need to be more open and honest about the value of animal research and switch our focus to non-animal methods, which are not only more effective and human-relevant, but more humane.”

Our findings support increasing evidence of the lack of human relevance of animal tests. This includes the 90% failure rate of new animal-tested drugs in human trials and the limited value of using animals in research for human diseases such as cancer, HIV and Parkinson’s.