Animal Aid

BRED TO SUFFER - Conclusion

In this final part of the Bred to Suffer report, we draw our conclusions about the use of animals as models of human disease, and outline the other techniques already available.

A fatal mistake

Using animals as model humans is absolutely unscientific. It contravenes fundamental principles of evolutionary biology, which state that species adapt to diverse niches in varied and unrelated ways, thus precluding the extrapolation of data from one to another. (59)

The consequence of continued animal use puts all of our lives at risk. Says Dr Irwin Bross, former Director of the world's largest cancer research institute, 'the moral is that animal model systems not only kill animals, they also kill humans'. (60)

In fact, adverse reactions to animal-modelled medicines are now the fourth largest cause of death in America, accounting for two million people being hospitalised every year - 100,000 of whom die. (61) The figure for the UK has been estimated as 70,000 deaths and cases of serious disability per year. (62) According to Dr Ray Greek, president of Americans For Medical Advancement, our unscrupulous dependence on animal data means these deaths 'are not accidents; they are inevitabilities'. (63) (See www.curedisease.net.)

If it is so harmful to us, why does animal experimentation continue? One reason is simply the momentum of convention - it has been happening for a long time, many careers have been built upon it and, with little scientific dispute until comparatively recently, it has become deeply ingrained. 'Sadly, young doctors must say nothing, at least in public, about the abuse of laboratory animals, for fear of jeopardising their career prospects.' (64)

But the main reason is money. The vested interests intent on maintaining the very profitable status quo are an immensely powerful lobby. The pharmaceutical industry in Europe alone will be worth over $100 billion by 2005. (65) Many in the industry are well aware that animal experiments are scientifically invalid but recognise that they are a convenient means of generating 'safety' and 'efficacy' data that will allow a new drug to jump the regulatory hoops and win licensing approval. Or, as one leading exponent acknowledged, '...the chief objective here is to keep us all employed.' (66) German surgeon Werner Hartinger asserts: 'There are, in fact, only two categories of doctors and scientists who are not opposed to vivisection: those who don't know enough about it, and those who make money from it.' (67)

Homo sapiens: a much better model

Proponents of animal experiments claim that medical progress would cease without them. In reality, precisely the opposite would be the case, with immeasurable benefits flowing from the development and application of superior non-animal techniques, a wealth of which we already have at our disposal. The truth is, enormous improvements have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases, thanks to advances in technology that have nothing to do with animal experimentation. The arsenal of medical tools and techniques available today includes ultrasound, arterial catheters, lasers, electron microscopes, pacemakers, electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, laparoscopic surgery, bone and joint replacements, artificial organs and much more.

MRI, CAT and PET scanners, for example, allow detailed analysis of the brains and other organs of conscious patients without surgery or even discomfort. New and ever more sophisticated techniques are rapidly becoming available.

New tissue and organ culture techniques provide human material for analysing disease processes and testing new therapies. At a stroke, interspecies differences that have plagued biomedical research for decades are eliminated. After all, 'the only universal model for a human is other humans'. (68) British pharmaceutical company Pharmagene tests drugs exclusively on human tissue with the philosophy, 'If you have information on human genes, what's the point of going back to animals?' (69)

Computer modelling is a sophisticated way to analyse and design the molecular structure of drugs to target specific receptors. In 1997, Hoffman La Roche had a new heart drug approved on the strength of data from a virtual heart because the animal data was inconclusive. Research teams around the world are working on a 'virtual human', (70) which is designed to predict drug metabolism and metabolite interaction with any given organ - information that animal models will never be able to provide.

Autopsy studies are immensely valuable: 'Virtually the whole of modern medical knowledge was created through the study of autopsies.' (71) There is still much more to be learned.

Clinical (patient) research and clinical trials of drugs and other therapies are very powerful tools, shaping treatment decisions for individual patients and advancing the standards of medical care. So long as they are conducted responsibly they can make enormous contributions to medical progress. Clinical trials would be safer for participants if the animal testing stage was removed. 'It is impossible to establish the reliability of animal data until humans have been exposed.' (72)

Technological improvements continue to be made, and provide potential for substantial future medical advancement. At the technological cutting edge, claims are made that human stem cells may be able to repair and even replace damaged organs in the future (73). It is also predicted that genetic screening could allow medicines to be better tailored to individual patients, thus potentially eliminating many harmful side-effects responsible for so many deaths as described above. (74) Advocates also say that such screening programmes will encourage people with particular disease risks to adopt preventive health strategies. Time will tell if these promises translate into genuine and lasting benefits. Recent years have also seen the public turn increasingly to non-allopathic therapies, based on a holistic model of health and disease, whereby the focus is on strengthening and nourishing the body's immune defences rather than making a 'self-destructive' high tech war on pathogens, tumours and the like.

Disease prevention offers the greatest hope for the 'big three' killers - heart disease, cancer and strokes. All the evidence for the major risk factors (smoking, high-fat diets, lack of exercise, etc) has come from epidemiological (population) studies of people and their lifestyles. Prevention is always better than cure, and as far as illnesses such as AIDS are concerned, 'prevention is not just better than cure - it is the only cure'. (75) Epidemiology has taught us how the AIDS virus is transmitted and how we may combat it. Combined with genetic, clinical and in vitro research, epidemiology is a very powerful tool whose scope is unlimited. The animal model, by contrast, is 'an archaic paradigm whose scope peaked 100 years ago. It must be replaced if we expect to improve the quality of human life'. (76)

Thanks to advances in molecular biology and other technologies, and also to a greater appreciation of the holistic, integrated nature of humans and their diseases, we may be entering a new phase of medical advancement. But as long as animal research is involved in any way, it will continue to de-rail progress as it has done so often and with such devastating consequences in the past.

For further reading see our sections on animal experiments and humane research.

References:

59. R.and J Greek, Specious Science, Continuum Publishers 2002
60. Fundamental and Applied Toxicology, November 1982
61. Journal of the American Medical Association, 1998, Vol 279 p1200-05, 1216-17
62. New Scientist, 19th September 1998
63. Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, op cit p70
64. EJH Moore, The Lancet, 26th April 1986 p975
65. Tony Blair, speech at the European Bioscience Conference, 17th November 2000
66. Human Epidemiology and Animal Laboratory Correlations in Chemical Carcinogenesis, Coulston and Shubick.(eds.), Ablex: 1980
67. W Hartinger, MD, 1989, quoted in Sacred Cows and Golden Geese, op cit p77
68. Gad, Shayne and Chengelis, Acute Toxicity Testing, Academic Press, 1998 p4
69. New Scientist, 31st August 1996, Vol 151 (2045) p4
70. New Scientist, 16th June 2001, Vol170 (2295) p26
71. I Asimov, Asimov's Biographical Encyclopaedia of Science and Technology, Second Edition, Doubleday and Company, 1982
72. O Flint, Neurotoxicology in Vitro, Pentreath, 1999, (eds Taylor and Francis) p9 New Scientist, 21st April 2001, Vol 170 (2287) p23
73. AA Kocher et al, Nature Medicine, April 2001 Vol 7 (4) p430-36
74. AD Roses, Pharmacogenetics and the Practice of Medicine, Nature, 2000 Vol 405 p857
75. British Medical Journal, 9th August 1986 p348
76. R. Greek, Specious Science, Continuum Publishers 2002

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