Unnecessary, inferior and cruel animal research and testing must be more honestly addressed in a civilised and scientifically advanced society such as ours.
Program and Research Associate
New England Anti-Vivisection Society, Boston
Article originally published by Issues Magazine.
Animal research is not the future of medical progress. More than 90% of medicines found to be safe and effective in animal tests fail to help humans. In many cases, medicines have resulted in serious side effects and even death. To further demonstrate: after 50 years of animal research on asthma only two types of treatments have become available; more than 1000 medications for stroke have been tested on animals and only one was effective in humans; and of the more than 80 HIV vaccines proven safe and efficacious in nonhuman primates, all failed to protect or be safe in humans in nearly 200 clinical trials (one actually increased a human’s chance of HIV infection). These are all fact-based examples of animal research and testing wasting animal lives, research resources and time. These and other ethical, scientific and economic arguments and human health concerns drive the work of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) to end the practice.
In the words of renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall, “In the name of science or medicine, animals are subjected to countless invasive, frightening and sometimes very painful procedures” (“So much animal pain, so little human gain”, The Times, 17 March 2012). Vivisection is institutionalised animal abuse, still sanctioned and legal. It is based upon widespread misinformation about its necessity, effectiveness, and even its “humaneness”. The public is led to believe there are laws protecting the wellbeing of animals used in labs, yet the fact is that in the US and other countries no laws protect animals from being subjected to protocols that include severe physical and psychological pain and suffering once the research is approved by in-house institutional committees. Experiments can include everything from testing new drugs to infecting with diseases, poisoning for toxicity testing, burning skin, causing brain damage, implanting electrodes into the brain, maiming, blinding, starving, swimming to the point of drowning, and other painful and invasive biomedical or behavioural procedures. They can include protocols that cause significant suffering such as long-term social isolation, electric shocks, withholding of food and water, or repeatedly breeding and separating mothers from infants. Animals used in chronic toxicity and carcinogenicity studies receive the test substance daily, seven days a week, for up to two years with no recovery periods. Many or most animals die – an expected endpoint of the testing. Those that do not are killed.
Animals in labs suffer not only pain from protocols, but also severe stress from day-to-day laboratory life. They spend their lives in barren cages, unable to make choices or express natural behaviours, and are offered limited diets predominantly, if not exclusively, of biscuit “lab chow” devoid of the diversity and richness of their free-living diets. Most never experience fresh air or sunshine, only bars and concrete. Standard lab conditions – such as small cages (which nonetheless likely meet legal size requirements), lack of enrichment, loud noises and bright lights out of sync with natural lighting – are all known to create stress in animals who in turn show physical and behavioural symptoms of their stress, including chronic inflammatory conditions. In the absence of such normal stimulation as a complex social life, foraging with group members, reacting to playful interactions or even dangers that their natural world would otherwise present, many, if not most, resort to stereotypic behaviors like circling, tail catching, self-mutilation, anorexia, withdrawal and other signs of severe psychological stress.
Despite widespread misinformation to the contrary, animals in labs suffer tremendously in the name of science. Yet, methodical analysis of biomedical literature shows that animals too often give us inadequate or erroneous information about human disease and toxicology, and that in many cases medical breakthroughs were delayed by dependence on animal models. If you flipped a coin to guess how a human will respond to a certain drug or chemical, your prediction would be as accurate as if you tested it on a nonhuman animal. While humans and other animals are similar on the gross anatomical level, we differ at the cellular and molecular levels where disease occurs and medications act.
According to Neil Wilcox, former senior science policy officer with the US Food and Drug Administration, “The technology that is emerging today looks at the cellular, subcellular, molecular, and genetic level, examining the effect of a particular chemical on a part of a molecule, a gene, or an enzyme. We’re asking questions about the specific mechanism that causes the effect” [Rudacille, D., 2000, The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The Conflict Between Animal Research and Animal Protection, University of California Press). Animals cannot answer these questions; they only give us guesses. Science is not about guessing; it is about prediction (validity) and consistency of results (reliability). In other fields of science, the continued use of a model without predictive value is unacceptable.
Even in a species whose DNA is nearly identical to humans, the chimpanzee, gene variations and expression result in vast important differences that render them to be considered an “unnecessary” model to study human health and disease. Species differences exist in the process by which a drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolised and eliminated, and in the causes, progression and outcomes of diseases. As a result, for example, a mouse may develop cancer in the same location as a human, but the cancers are not the same. According to Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the National Cancer Institute, “We have cured cancer in mice for decades – and it simply didn’t work in humans”. Instead, breakthroughs in cancer treatment can be attributed, in large part, to early detection from sophisticated imaging technology.
The results of animal research continue to demonstrate what Dr James Gallaher stated in the Journal of the American Medical Association back in March 1964: “Animal studies are done for legal reasons and not for scientific reasons. The predictive value of such studies for man is often meaningless – which means our research may be meaningless”. We would add economic gain to the list of reasons that animal research continues. Animal research is a multi-billion dollar industry in which for-profit commercial interests have high stakes. This is one of the major reasons that the use of animals not only continues, but also is fiercely defended despite its obvious limitations, dangers, and the reality that it may not help our battle against human diseases, and might actually hinder it.
As an example of such financial motivation, consider that in 2011, the Jackson Laboratory – “a leading mammalian genetics research center” – had operating revenue of $214.7 million (http://www.jax.org/fastfacts/index.html). Investment in the procurement, handling and upkeep of animals for labs is a highly lucrative enterprise for animal importers, breeders, dealers, cage and equipment manufacturers, feed producers and drug companies. In 2006, scientists Nirmala Bhogal and Robert Combes, working for the UK’s Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Research, stated, “In our opinion, the current extent to which GA [genetically altered] mice are used cannot be justified on the basis that they are vital for the development of human medicines, since few human medicines have so far been developed which were largely or exclusively based on the use of GA mouse models. This unsatisfactory situation is despite nearly four decades of studies in GA mice …” (ATLA, August 2006). Despite the poor record of GA mice contributing to treatments for human diseases, the Jackson Laboratory continues to profit and “distributed” three million mice in 2011 alone.
The purchase and maintenance of animals in labs is very expensive. Rats, mice and birds constitute more than 90% of all research animals not because they are necessarily a reliable animal model or the most predictive, but because, in comparison to many other species, they are relatively inexpensive to buy, easy to manage and maintain, and disposable without much public clamour or concern. Notably, US animal research industry lobbyists successfully excluded these same species from the Animal Welfare Act – the only federal law that offers even minimal husbandry protection to animals in labs.
On the bright side, recent articles from within the scientific community itself increasingly recognise the inherent flaws in animal research and the promise of alternatives. Just last month, an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) confirmed previous systematic reviews describing the inefficacy and poor ability of animal research to contribute to treatments for human illnesses. In PNAS, Junhee Seok and colleagues state, “To date, there have been nearly 150 clinical trials testing candidate agents intended to block the inflammatory response in critically ill patients, and every one of these trials failed … The prevailing assumption – that molecular results from current mouse models developed to mimic human diseases translate directly to human conditions – is challenged by our study”. At the same time, new alternatives in medical research and cosmetic and product testing continue to make headlines. These include 3D stem cell culture techniques enabling scientists to model diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and a partnership between Harvard University and Sony to mass-produce “organs-on-chips” for scientists to test new drugs. These, along with dozens of other non-animal traditional research methods such as epidemiology, microdosing and human autopsies, offer greater promise than the use of antiquated animal models.
Still, billions of dollars continue to be wasted on experiments attempting to model human disease in nonhuman species, including major diseases such as HIV, stroke, cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, or in attempting to decipher the risks of chemicals used in cosmetics, pesticides and other products despite decades of animal research and testing showing animal models give us significantly misleading and erroneous results. Disturbingly, a 2000 survey by the US Dept of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of research laboratories in the US found that the most common Animal Welfare Act violation – occurring at an estimated 800 facilities – was inadequate consideration of alternatives. This far too common violation is still prevalent today in inspection reports.
Government regulatory agencies, in whose hands public health rests, must demand better research. A paradigm shift in the sciences is necessary to move billions of research dollars spent on animal experiments into using, developing and validating more and better alternatives. While alternatives now in use or available for use have been validated and therefore do what they purport, the animal model is not a validated model in any area of research, testing or education. According to Melvin E. Anderson, director of the division of computational systems biology at the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences, “The reason we use animal tests is because we have a comfort level with the process … not because it is the correct process, not because it gives us any real new information we need to make decisions … Animal tests are no longer the gold standard” [Gaul, G.M, “In U.S., Few Alternatives to Testing on Animals”, The Washington Post, 12 April 2008).
Non-animal methods are proving superior on all fronts: they are more efficient, accurate and cost-effective than animal use. By directing limited research funds to a failed and continually failing model, animal research threatens to hold back innovation and treatments for human illnesses. This is not only due to wasted limited research dollars and time, but also because treatments and drugs that are potentially safe and effective in humans may never reach the market because they fail in animal tests. And, an abundance of medications tested on animals have reached the market and caused serious adverse effects, including organ failure, heart attack, stroke and death.
The diversion of limited resources to time-consuming and expensive animal tests also results in delaying effective testing of chemicals to which we are exposed. Tens of thousands of potentially harmful chemicals have never been tested for carcinogenicity, toxicity, teratogenicity and other safety information. Animal tests cannot be the chosen route to assess the safety of these chemicals as results are neither reliable nor predictive of human outcomes. Instead, for example, high-throughput screening assays, an alternative research method to using animals, can analyse upward of 1400 chemicals at 15 different concentrations in about 2.5 weeks for about $1 million (http://alttox.org/spotlight/006.html). In contrast, traditional animal experiments are expensive, less comprehensive, take years to produce results of poor predictive value for humans and cause tremendous animal suffering.
By engaging governmental agencies, scientists and the public, NEAVS supports the increasing development of alternatives and works for implementation, mandatory use requirements and allocation of greater resources to these promising scientific advancements for the sake of nonhuman animals and humans. We believe that we are working at a time in the history of science where the advancement of our mission will accelerate, fuelled by not only the growing ethical and humane concerns of the public, but also by the advances of science itself.