These 10 Animals Are Being Exploited For Medical Research

By Amber Levesque June 13 2020 in Environment

Milking a tiger snake for its venom for medical research. Image credit: Mark Higgins/Shutterstock.com
Milking a tiger snake for its venom for medical research. Image credit: Mark Higgins/Shutterstock.com
  • Virtually every medical advancment in the 20th century has been achieved through the use of animals in research laboratories.
  • Each year, 17 to 22 million vertebrate animals are used in some sort of research capacity.
  • 50,000 to 60,000 nonhuman primates are used each year for research purposes.

To be exploited is to be used unfairly for the benefit of another. Many will argue that animals are being exploited for profit and research without any repercussions. Although controversial, there are regulations in place for researchers found in “The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals” highlighting standards of care for several animals. This is specific only to the researcher in the United States, and unfortunately, those regulations cannot be enforced elsewhere. There may not be a right or wrong answer to the question, is it wrong to use animals for medical research, but that does not mean it is not important. This exploitive practice leads to the moral dilemma, whose life is more valuable— animals or humans. 

10. Oily Fish

Oily fish. Image credit: CKP1001/Shutterstock.com
Oily fish. Image credit: CKP1001/Shutterstock.com

Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in brain development, as well as normal growth and inflammation. Those who are deficient of Omega-3 are often diagnosed with heart disease, cancers, emotional ailments, joint issues, and more. But the demand for this supplement is putting a serious strain on the oily fish species, such as Atlantic salmon, who in 2000, were considered an endangered species. 

9. Spiders

A tarantula. Image credit:  MPH Photos/Shutterstock.com
A tarantula. Image credit: MPH Photos/Shutterstock.com

Spiders' venom is unique. It is estimated that there are more than 22 million venom compounds available—which makes venom remarkably diverse and full of potential. In addition to their venom, spiders’ silk has proven to be quite useful as it contains millions of proteins and is stretchy and strong. The hope is that one day these materials will be used to encourage our body and its cells to heal themselves when implanted. Interestingly, our bodies do not reject the spider’s silk as a foreign substance. Granted, spiders may not be everyone’s favorite creatures, this is just the beginning of their exploitation in medical research.

8. Snakes

Snake milking for venom extraction. Image credit: Songpon pengnok/Shutterstock.com
Snake milking for venom extraction. Image credit: Songpon pengnok/Shutterstock.com

Snakes venom can kill, but scientists have now discovered venom can actually cure! Venom can be used to help blood pressure and clotting, as well as treating cancers, pain, strokes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s disease. Venomous snakes such as Brazilian pit viper have a compound in their venom that is found in captopril, which treats hypertension in humans. As unpleasant as many Americans find snakes, particularly ones that can kill you with a single bite, they do offer scientists potential cures for human disease. Their venoms power leaves them vulnerable to being exploited by medical researchers. 

7. Dogfish Sharks

 Dogfish Shark at Broadkill Beach, Delaware. Image credit: Robert Crow/Shutterstock.com
Dogfish Shark at Broadkill Beach, Delaware. Image credit: Robert Crow/Shutterstock.com

Could the Dogfish shark be the answer to Parkinson’s? Scientists have synthesized a steroid that closely mirrors one found in the dogfish shark, squalamine. It prevents the buildup of a deadly protein found in some neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s. Also, squalamine is a viable antiviral candidate as it can kill a plethora of human and animal viruses. The dogfish shark appears to be an invaluable member of the medical research community, putting it at serious risk of exploitation.  

6. Horseshoe Crabs

Horseshoe crab in a laboratory. Image credit: Rattiya Thongdumhyu/Shutterstock.com
Horseshoe crab in a laboratory. Image credit: Rattiya Thongdumhyu/Shutterstock.com

Nearly 550-million-year-old, the horseshoe crab’s blood is vital to medical research. Its blue blood contains a protein called Limulus Amoebocyte (LAL) which is used by pharmaceutical companies to test for the presence of endotoxins. Endotoxins are potentially fatal to humans, making LAL testing one of the most important steps in the medical research process. Generally, the horseshoe crab will be drained of most of its blood, then released back into the wild until the next year's harvest. Unfortunately, it is estimated that nearly 50,000 crabs die during the blood harvest. With that said, this prehistoric creatures’ blood could be the answer to the COIVD-19 vaccine we have all been waiting for… the question remains—whose life is most valued?

5. Rats and Mice

Rats and mice are extensively used as laboratory animals. Image credit: Jakub Stepien/Shutterstock.com
Rats and mice are extensively used as laboratory animals. Image credit: Jakub Stepien/Shutterstock.com

Interestingly, most medical research rats and mice are inbred, allowing for them to be virtually identical genetically. This uniformity helps researchers with consistency. Another reason rodents are used is the oddly humanlike characteristics. With the help of science, researchers can study rodents with similar genes to humans, allowing them to better understand and treat human disease. These unique rodents are called “transgenic mice.” The rapid rate mice and rats reproduce and how inexpensive they are to keep make them the ideal choice for exploitation. Be that as it may, these noble rodents will help scientists cure and treat the array of aliments humans face in life.

4. Rabbits

Rabbit being used for medical testing. Image credit: Artfully Photography/Shutterstock.com
Rabbit being used for medical testing. Image credit: Artfully Photography/Shutterstock.com

Rabbits are often selected for research because of their calm demeanor and size. At an 11% increase from 2017, there were 133,634 rabbits used by the United States Department of Agriculture for research purposes in 2018. Of those rabbits used 57,462 rabbits were involved in pain and distress research. They are often used for studies that involve toxins and irritation testing and kept in exceedingly small cages. Rabbits do not offer any purpose to research except for their docile ability to endure pain and suffering. These animals, like rats/mice, are severely exploited for medical research. 

3. Opossums

A Virginia opossum. Image credit: Tony Campbell/Shutterstock.com
A Virginia opossum. Image credit: Tony Campbell/Shutterstock.com

Who knew opossums were so awesome… these marsupials are all the craze in the medical research world! As they are mammals, they share a lot of the same genes and biological processes as humans. Currently, they are being used in a research project looking at a process called X-inactivation, which looks at the X chromosome in female cells and how it connects to cancer. Opossums are also the only other animal that can develop skin cancer due to UV light—which makes them an ideal candidate for skin cancer research. If that does spark your interest, the 9-12-day old newborn opossums can regenerate their spinal cords with no effect on spinal function! There is still much to be done regarding research, but these awesome creatures are sure to be caged by the thousands for medical purposes soon.  

2. Pigs

A pig being administered a vaccine for testing. Image credit: Pattakorn Uttarasak/Shutterstock.com
A pig being administered a vaccine for testing. Image credit: Pattakorn Uttarasak/Shutterstock.com

PETA paints a grim picture of the life of a pig in a medical research facility. If you are interested in learning the disturbing details of what these pigs endure, go in with a strong stomach. A 2018 report shows that there was a 4% increase in pigs used in research, up to 50,094. They are usually used for surgical practice that highlights healing, transplantation, and plastic surgery, as well as toxicology and pharmacology studies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Research claims that the use of pigs in research is because a lot of people feel detached from them and they are devalued as a species.  

1. Non-human Primates

An encaged monkey. Image credit: Hainarong/Shutterstock.com
An encaged monkey. Image credit: Hainarong/Shutterstock.com

Researchers claim that their ability to find cures for cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s, obesity/diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and depression hinges on the use of non-human primates (NHP) like monkeys. It is believed that without the use of NHP the ability to understand human disease and illness will be greatly hindered. In the United States in 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture reported that 74,498 monkeys were used in U.S. research. Whether you support or oppose the use of NHP, there is no doubt that they are being gravely exploited for medical research.

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