Animal experimentation has been going on since the 19th century with tests being conducted on both dead and live animals such as dogs, cats, mice, monkeys, rabbits, birds, monkeys and guinea pigs.
French chemist Louis Pasteur pioneered new treatments for cholera and anthrax by experimenting on chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs. British surgeon Joseph Lister tested carbolic acid on animals and discovered the substance could effectively sterilize surgical instruments, sutures and wound dressings, thereby preventing infection of wounds.
Since then, scientists have used animal experiments to develop vaccines for dozens of infectious diseases, including diphtheria, tetanus, rabies, whooping cough, tuberculosis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and - just recently - Hemophilus influenzae type B (Hib), a major cause of meningitis.
Apart from vaccines, animal research has played a major role in the development of antibiotics such as penicillin and life-saving medical procedures such as open heart surgery and kidney dialysis. Treatments for hypertension and diabetes also came as a result of animal research. Today, scientists are conducting animal experiments in an attempt to find cures for cancer, Alzheimer's, AIDS, motor neurone disease, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, asthma, arthritis and a host of other ailments.
However, animal rights activists say these tests are cruel, inhumane and unnecessary.
"Animals are different to humans in many ways - genetically, anatomically, physiology, emotionally and socially," said a spokesperson for Anti Animal Cruelty. "Therefore it is clear that we cannot base human medicine on veterinary medicine. Humans have different reactions to drugs than animals, so why do we assume a drug is safe because it has been tested on animals?".
Anti Animal Cruelty's website said there were several instances where drug testing on animals had proved inconclusive, even dangerous.