18/03/2012 18:23 GMT | Updated 18/05/2012 06:12 BST

Fewer Animals in Laboratories Is Good for All of Us

It is welcome news that many airlines and ferry companies have made the compassionate decision to stop transporting animals to laboratories in the UK. Not only will this save some animals from being infected, poisoned, burned, genetically manipulated, surgically mutilated and killed in painful experiments, it could also help save human lives. That is, if scientists embrace this opportunity to use more creative and effective research methods that don't involve animals - and which will lead to real cures.

Most of those imported animals are genetically modified rodents. The media seems to always fall for the latest hype surrounding the use of animals who have been genetically modified to approximate human medical conditions. This PR always contains gee-whizz science, astonishing effects, and inflated claims about potential human benefits but ignores even a hint of the price paid by animals. Yet the outcome is always predictable: animals can never be "humanised," there will always be thousands of important differences between species, and the link to humans will remain assumed and unproven.

Like all animal tests, those performed with genetically modified animals aren't delivering. In 2004, a paper published in the British Medical Journal concluded that there was little actual scientific evidence that animal experimentation was essential to medical research. Experimenters perpetually attempt to justify the terrible suffering they inflict on animals by claiming there is a cure just around the corner, but decades of animal experiments on AIDS vaccines (more than 80 that passed animal tests have failed in people), strokes (150 treatments have worked in animals and failed in people) and other diseases have failed to deliver any cures for the millions of people who suffer from these conditions.

That's because while humans and animals are alike in our ability to feel pain, fear, sadness, joy, and other emotions, we vary enormously in our physical reactions to toxins and diseases and in how our bodies metabolise drugs. Trying to apply the results of animal tests to humans is a shot in the dark. US Food and Drug Administration figures show that 92% of drugs which pass animal trials are later found to be unsafe or ineffective in human trials.

Clinging to archaic animal experiments even seems to blind experimenters to the obvious. When PETA US experts reviewed more than 500 rodent cancer studies to assess their scientific validity according to current, internationally accepted criteria, they found that critical public-health and worker-protection measures related to cigarette smoke, asbestos, benzene and other cancer-causing substances were delayed for many years because of misplaced trust in animal tests, which could not replicate the health effects already well-documented in humans.

Medical research may now finally be able to progress into the 21st century because the British public is demanding human-relevant, modern research techniques instead of obsolete and unreliable animal tests. Sophisticated, cutting-edge techniques and technologies such as cell lines, tissue cultures, computer and mathematical modeling, clinical investigations, epidemiological research and autopsy studies are cheaper, faster and more reliable than animal tests - not to mention infinitely kinder.

Let's hope the refusal of transport companies to carry animal victims to UK laboratories causes the scientific community to rethink its psychological dependence on cruel and unreliable animal tests. Switching to advanced non-animal methods now would result in a future filled with less suffering for all species.