Congress to NIH: End Animal Experiments


Last month, eight members of Congress sent a trailblazing letter to Dr. Lawrence Tabak, Acting Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), calling for the agency to phase out animal experiments. The letter sent a clear message from Congress that the U.S. needs to move away from antiquated animal models and fully embrace more human-relevant research methods.

The letter rightly accuses the NIH of “placing undue priority on funding experiments on animals that have failed to lead to treatments, vaccines, and cures for human diseases.” To support this assertion, the authors point to the NIH’s own data showing that 95% of new drugs fail in human trials. In certain areas of research, including Alzheimer’s, sepsis and stroke, that rate is even higher.

The letter also touches on the European Parliament’s decision last September to pass a resolution calling for an action plan to end all animal experiments. This resolution, along with the U.S.’s lack of a firm commitment to modernize research, “puts the U.S. at risk of losing its role as the world leader in biomedical research and deflects funding from research that could address and alleviate some of the world’s most deadly diseases,” according to the letter.  

Specifically, the authors of the letter ask the NIH to take the following actions immediately:

  1. Cease funding of new projects involving animals for areas of disease research where there is ample evidence of poor translation from animal models to humans.
  2. Conduct a review of the utility of animal-based research in all remaining disease and research areas to identify additional areas in which the use of animals can be immediately ended.
  3. Prioritize funding for research that uses non-animal, human-relevant methods, including preventative and interventional research involving human participants.

Whether you have been a supporter of NAVS for a week, ten years, or longer, these arguments likely sound familiar. It is true that the heavy reliance on animal models has not produced treatments for most of humanity’s pressing ailments. Metastatic cancer, for example, is nearly as unstoppable today as it was decades ago. In reality, of the 7,000 known diseases, only about 500 have treatments, with many of those treatments offering just marginal benefits.

With the facts on the table, Congress has every right to question the NIH’s reliance, and often its insistence, on using animal models to study human diseases. If we are not getting the results we need—and clearly, we are not—it is time to start imagining what biomedical research grounded in human biology could look like. NAVS is grateful for the members of Congress who, with this letter, have stepped up to challenge the status quo at the NIH: Representatives Nancy Mace, Ted Lieu, Bill Posey, Joe Neguse, Dina Titus, Brendan Boyle, Darren Soto and Jerry McNerney.