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Animal Research Benefits Mom and Baby Alike

The contributions of animal research to human health are many.  

In response to the blanket statement that animal research “does not work” I wanted to provide three examples of how animal research directly benefits the health of women and their babies: in-vitro fertilization, oral contraceptives and neonatal intensive care.

Do you or any of your friends conceived with help of in-vitro fertilization?  Do you know how the method was developed?

It turns out that rabbits played a central role in the development of in-vitro fertilization.   Walter Heape in England reported the first known case of embryo transplantation from one rabbit species to another, thereby showing that it was possible to transfer the embryos to a gestational carrier without adverse effects.  Dr. Gregory Pincus at Harvard then achieved in-vitro fertilization in rabbits for the first time.  Being ahead of his time brought him much negative reputation and was described by the media a modern “Dr. Frankestein” (in fact, he was denied tenure due to these experiments.)   These findings paved the way for the development of in-vitro fertilization in humans which allows families to have a children overcoming many obstacles to pregnancy, both in cases of female and male infertility.  Approximately 60,000 infants are born with the help of IVF in the US every year...   Thank the rabbits.

Have you ever asked yourself where oral contraceptives come from?   

The “pill” was first introduced in the 60s based on synthetic hormones that mimic the way progesterone works to prevent ovulation.  Haberlandt and colleagues first demonstrated that transplantation of ovaries of pregnant rabbits into fertile female rabbits suppressed their ovulation.   It later was discovered that this was caused by the hormone progesteroneMargaret Sanger, the famous american birth control activist,  asked Dr. Gregory Pincus (the same one that developed IFV) to think of new methods of contraception and, building on these results, he showed that repeated injections of progesterone indeed could stop ovulation in rabbits.   This key finding, along with the development of a synthetic version of progesterone, led the first clinical trials of “the pill” in Puerto Rico.   The trials were successful and Enovid was approved by the FDA in 1957.   Thank the rabbits again...

Have you any of your friends had a premature baby in the intensive care unit?   Do you know why survival rates are now much higher than in the past?

The rate of premature birth has increased by 36% since the 80s (1).  Most babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are premature and are at risk of many complications.  In the USA alone, about 12.8% of babies are born prematurely and will spend their first few days of their lives in the neonatal intensive care unit.  Among babies born before the 34th week, 23,000 a year of them suffer from respiratory stress syndrome (RDS).  Such babies lack a protein in their lungs (called surfactants) that keep the air sacs in the lungs from collapsing.   

Surfactants were discovered and their chemical composition analyzed using dogs in biomedical research.  The fruits of this research were translated into the treatments using surfactants in the 90s, which reduced the death of babies from RDS by about 50% (2).  In other words, slightly more than 10,000 babies are saved every year just in the US alone due to surfactant-replacement therapy.  

That’s more than one baby per hour just in the US... Saved.  Thanks to animal research.

So when animal rights activists and the medical wing of their movement state that animal research "does not work", what they really mean is that it does not work...for them.   

Yet, they cannot deny these facts with a book of half-truths and out-of-context citations.

Anyone can walk into the nearest neonatal ICU and face the babies and their parents.  Face the facts.

What do you think the parent’s reaction would be if you were to bring absolutely irrelevant PPV/NPV statistics to their attention while their baby is saved by surfactant-replacement therapy?


(1) Martin, J.A., et al. Births: Final Data for 2006. National Vital Statistics Reports, volume 57, number 7, January 7, 2008.

(2) Engle, W.A., and the Committee on Fetus and Newborn. Surfactant-Replacement Therapy for Respiratory Distress in the Preterm and Term Neonate. Pediatrics, volume 121, number 2, February 2008, pages 419-428


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