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Animals and cancer research

Cancer Council Victoria (CCV) acknowledges that there is community concern surrounding animals in research. Cancer Council Victoria does not itself conduct laboratory research involving animals. Research undertaken by Cancer Council is conducted through our Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer (CBRC) and involves analysis of human behaviour, and our Cancer Epidemiology Centre which analyses statistical information on cancer incidence, survival and deaths in Victoria.

We do provide grants to external researchers working in Victorian universities, hospitals and medical research institutes through our research funding program. At times some of this research will involve the use of animals – the majority being mice, with others including drosophila (fruit flies) and zebra fish. Cancer Council only funds projects involving animals if the proposed work has been approved by a formally constituted animal ethics committee before the research takes place.

Australia has high standards in place to ensure the wellbeing of animals used for scientific purposes. The comprehensive and effective safeguards in place include compliance with the Australian Code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 7th edition 2004 (the Code of Practice), developed by the NHMRC. This code sets out how animals may be used for scientific purposes.

Researchers in Australia must obtain approval from an Animal Ethics Committee before the research can begin. In all cases, the applicant must justify the use of the animals to the Animal Ethics Committee. In addition, the Code of Practice includes the requirement for consideration of the 3Rs ( Replacement of animals with other methods, Reduction of the number of animals used, and Refinement of techniques used in order to reduce the adverse impact on animals). Researchers must strive to ensure that the use of animals in research continues to be relevant and useful to humans and that alternatives to the use of animals are adopted wherever possible.

The Code of Practice is legally enforced through relevant state and territory legislation.

Questions and answers

Why are animals used in medical research?

Without animals, most of the major scientific and medical advances of the last century would not have been possible. For example, many life-saving drugs such as insulin, antibiotics, vaccines, anti-rejection (transplant) drugs and many anti-cancer treatments were all developed using knowledge gained from animal studies.

Do any of the external research projects we currently fund involve animals?

Some biomedical research projects funded by CCV will at times involve animals. Most commonly these would be mice, though other animals including Drosophila (fruit flies) and Zebrafish might be used in some cases. 

What research projects, if any, have we funded in the past that have involved animals?

Our internal research conducted at Cancer Council does not involve animals. Some of the external research conducted in universities, hospitals and medical research institutions in the past has involved animals and the majority of these would have been mice.

Why are mice the most common animals used in the external research CCV funds?

Most cancers are modeled extremely well in mice, as despite external appearances both mice and humans share many genetic and functional similarities. This allows for the best possible research and validation of new cancer treatments before they're used in clinical trials on humans.

What are the costs associated with research involving animals?

The costs vary depending on the specific conditions needed.

Have there been significant advances in our cancer knowledge as a result of research on animals?

The research we conduct and the external research we fund have significantly contributed to the declining incidence of some cancers and the overall increase in cancer survival in Victoria from 48% in 1990 to well over 60% at present, resulting in thousands of lives saved.