Doctors used to try out their surgical skills on animals before being allowed to work on patients. Now just a handful of US medical schools still have animal labs. A Nature News report (453, 140-141; 8 May 2008) asks if they’ve lost a vital tool.
This month sees the shutdown of the live-animal laboratory at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, Ohio. The lab is currently used to train medical students, allowing them to practise on anaesthetized pigs before attempting their first incision into humans. But the school, which has used live cats, dogs and ferrets in its surgery programme in the past, intends to stop using live animals at the end of this semester in favour of technologies such as virtual simulations.
It is the latest closure in a phase-out of animal labs across the United States: in 1994, live-animal experiments were on the curriculum in 77 of 125 medical schools; now it is thought that just eight use them.
In the context of a global trend to reduce the use of live non-human animals for surgical training, the News story reports a range of opinions from medical scientists, physicians, directors, students and others on the value of training using simulation or real animals.