Published: 10 Nov 2016 | Last Updated: 08 Dec 2016 13:29:14

RVC statement on the involvement of veterinary schools in research

Animals contribute to human society in a number of ways and veterinarians are committed to protecting the welfare of animals in all these uses. Importantly this is the case in scientific investigation and veterinarians are integral to ensuring that any compromise to health and welfare is limited to the absolute minimum and is justified by the potential benefits that might ensue. Society as a whole accepts the need for animals in research for the benefit of humans and the benefit of other animals, whilst requiring that alternative approaches are sought wherever possible and appropriate. Veterinarians are closely involved in regulating this process and the named veterinary surgeon system is committed to protecting the animals as required by law.

All research conducted at the RVC, as at all other UK veterinary schools, has the potential to benefit our animal patients. Some of the work we do is funded by biomedical research funders. Nevertheless, the techniques we develop will always be applicable to veterinary patients, even if there is also human medical benefit.   Companion animals in particular suffer many of the same disease problems that afflict people and the standard of healthcare we can offer our pets is dependent upon progressing our knowledge and continuing to push back the frontiers as to what is possible. Our referral hospitals are very much at the frontier of veterinary care – they can only continue to progress in their endeavours to offer the best treatment possible to our patients because of the scientific advances that underpin our discipline.

One of the many examples where the interplay between fundamental biomedical research, veterinary and human patient clinical research has proved extremely valuable is in cancer medicine.  The way in which the immune response is regulated is very important in understanding why cancer cells are accepted by the body as normal and so allowed to grow and spread. The results of studies in genetically altered mice (undertaken in collaboration with human medical schools and University Hospitals) have helped us to interpret data from veterinary patients with cancer, especially lymphoma, a very common cancer in middle aged dogs and people.  This work in mice is directly benefiting our canine patients in terms of new diagnostics that help us make more targeted treatment decisions and give owners a more accurate prognosis.  

We respect the rights of groups in society to challenge the way we do research and remain committed to the openness concordat to facilitate genuine debate.  However, there is a real contradiction in the claims by Animal Aid that it is inappropriate for a veterinary school, dedicated to making animals better, to be involved in research involving animals. It is precisely because we are so involved that we can offer the best treatment to those animals most in need. Anybody who has ever had to take their pet to a veterinary clinic is benefitting from these advances in just the same way as anyone requiring hospital treatment for themselves or their family benefits from medical research. In common with the rest of the community we are committed to reducing and refining the need for animals in research to identify new treatments with the benefits accruing for both veterinary and human patients.

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