Animal Testing: History, Facts & Alternatives

Instructor: Gaines Arnold
In this lesson, you will learn how animal testing has been used throughout history and how a better understanding of ethics has provided new alternatives.

Animal Testing

An attractive spokesmodel introduces the hippest new lipstick color, doctors recommend an acne cream that clears zits in less than 24 hours, a new sweetener that is sweeter and has less aftertaste is introduced. What do all of these new products have in common? Animal testing was required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to bring them to market. This is a practice that has spawned legitimate protest, but it has also generated alternatives that have made testing more ethical despite a clouded history.

Historical Timeline

Animal testing, using animals as human substitutes to test products for safety, began with Greek anatomists, since doctors at the time had very little understanding of anatomy, whether human or otherwise. Sometimes they would conduct experiments on dead animals, but often they would vivisect,which is performing surgery on live animals, so that they could better understand the true function of organs, muscles, tendons and other parts of the animal's anatomy.

A Green physician living in Rome, named Galen, discovered how different organs and systems in the body operated using this method of testing in the second century. He wrote a book that included an advanced understanding of the cardio-pulmonary system. An Arab researcher and doctor, Ibn Zuhr, practiced surgical techniques on animal subjects prior to using them on humans. Unfortunately, all of these procedures were done without the aid of anesthetics, since they would not be invented for several centuries.

In recent history, incredible advances in medicine often included a stage of animal testing that was crucial to discovery, but the practice was still cruel to the subjects. Ivan Pavlov famously used dogs to better understand the conditioned responses of animals by surgically implanting a saliva collection cup and drain into their mouths. Jonas Salk would not have been able to understand how polio caused its debilitating effects if he didn't have a lab full of rhesus monkeys. Diabetes could still be a death sentence if it were not for the dogs tested by Frederick Banting. Both discoveries required that the researcher introduce the harmful agent to an animal subject and then dissect, or cut the animal up, to understand the results.


For many years, the use of animals as test subjects has been sanctioned without remorse because the testers realized their usefulness, and the public didn't really care how products came to market. Any ethical concerns were never mentioned because many thought that the use of animals to protect humans was sanctioned by a higher power.

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