On Wednesday evening David Amess called a debate in the House of Commons to discuss research using animals. A big focus was the need to update UK law next year, to bring us into line with changes to the EU directive which governs this research across Europe. David Amess opened the debate with his concerns about the limitations of using animal models to study human diseases.
Lynne Featherstone is the Home Office minister responsible for the regulation of animal research, and responded on behalf of the government. Several other MPs (including Jim Shannon, Margot James and Roger Williams) spoke out about the value of research using animals .
It’s worth reading the whole debate, but here are a couple of interesting snippets from a medical research point of view:
On updating UK law to bring us in line with the EU directive, Lynne Featherstone confirmed that the government’s priority is to ensure the UK’s high standards of animal welfare don’t slip, but also recognised the opportunity to reduce bureaucracy:
The European directive provides an opportunity to reduce some of the bureaucracy, but when it comes to animal welfare, I am looking closely at anything that might suggest any reduction in standards.
Jim Shannon pushed the minister to confirm that changes to regulation would not prevent research into new medicines from continuing in the UK:
Jim Shannon: What is sought by Members, and by many outside the House, is an assurance that any potential or suggested changes, or improvements, made by the Minister would not affect experimentation on animals to provide new medication that could save lives. It is clear that the medicines that have been perfected through such experimentation have saved not just hundreds of thousands but millions of lives. Can the Minister assure us that it will continue?
Lynne Featherstone: I can assure all Members in all parts of the House that the Government want the development of those medicines to continue, as long as a responsible and careful attitude is adopted to the animals that are used in the quest for better medicines. Those who conduct such experiments must adhere to the stringent standards to which I have referred, and search further and harder for alternative technologies. When I visited University College hospital recently, I saw some of the machinery that it is using instead of animals. The advances that have been made, have almost been made or will be made in the near future are amazing, and I am sure that any institution, whether a university, a scientific research establishment or a commercial venture, will want to provide the best conditions for their animals in order to get the best results.
And when summing up, Lynne Featherstone neatly expressed the coalition government’s recognition of the importance of research using animals to healthcare:
Finally, on the value of animal research, it is at present the case that without the judicious use of animal studies we would have no modern drugs, and we should acknowledge that the national health service would be unable to function effectively were it not for the availability of medicines and treatments that have been developed, or validated, through research using animals.