We need to change the conversation around animal research

Animal research has long been a controversial issue: the debate is emotive and highly divisive, yet it has done little to capture the public imagination in the way that other social justice movements, such as climate change and #MeToo, have managed to achieve.

We need to change the public conversation around animal research, argues Carla Owen
We need to change the public conversation around animal research, argues Carla Owen

Preserving one life has implied the sacrifice of another, pitting animal activists against animal researchers, and neither has been successful in the exchange.

The main objective in promoting animal-free research is to overcome this divide by changing the conversation entirely.

Some of the challenges in shaping a new discourse around animal research are found in popular beliefs that need to be addressed.

The conversation must shift away from making uncomfortable choices between ethics and science, cures and karma.

The old slogan of "sacrifice an animal to save a human life" as the ultimate benefit needs to be set aside.

We need a new communications strategy that makes it clear to the public and science community that we can have it all.

We are starting a new conversation with a diverse group of stakeholders who may not be used to talking to each other. Our goal is to shift the focus onto delivering faster, easily accessible and cost-effective research solutions to humans.

Together, we can help promote investments in more commercially viable technologies and products, modernise regulatory frameworks to enable approval of new solutions, and incentivise the replacement of animals with higher-value-for-money alternatives.

This is no easy task. Our campaign aims to engage and inspire the public, scientists, academics, the pharmaceutical industry, regulators, politicians, research councils and charities, all with a stake in finding a shared language that can overcome the barriers.

There are many successful examples of research conducted away from animals that operate on the principles of this new paradigm.

From enabling safe human-brain imaging to replace invasive monkey experiments to developing the first 3D human breast-cancer model, eradicating the need to test on mice – we have indeed made some progress. Yet much more needs to be done.

We can all agree we want better treatments for diseases, and most of us would prefer this to be achieved without animal suffering.

This new vision starts now, in the run-up to Christmas, with a new message of hope about animal-free research that can unite us all to solve a century-old problem and help find new treatments, faster, for debilitating diseases.

Because if we don't succeed, we are not only failing animals: we are failing humans, too.

Carla Owen is chief executive of the charity Animal Free Research UK

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