Man or Mouse
Alternatives to Research involving Transgenic Animals
There is an abundance of evidence that, if examined objectively, illustrates in no uncertain terms that animal experiments have been incidental to medical progress, and it seems that GM animals aren't going to change things one bit. We have little to thank them for in the history of medicine. But even if they had been central and crucial to many areas of medical progress over the years, we'd still have to ask if they are necessary or even helpful in the year 2005. It's high time that a proper assessment of the roles and contributions of various scientific approaches was undertaken.
"The mouse-wrangling business is booming... a $200 million affair. The leading commercial ranch... raked in $140 million in rodent sales last year."
We live in an era with a great potential for medical advancement. The tools and technologies available to scientists to unpick the secrets of nature and to get a real handle on the terrible diseases that afflict mankind are truly mind-boggling, and are showing us the way ahead. It is distressing to realise that a small yet significant and immensely powerful group of researchers, backed by the industries that stand to profit from their work, cling to animal research with the same tenacity with which people cling to their livelihoods and their life savings; and if they were honest, they'd admit that this is exactly what they're doing.
Fortunately, many scientists are genuinely objective, questioning, analytical and impartial. And an overwhelming majority of them pursue career paths that do not involve animal research - actively shunning it. The reason is simple: animal research is not the answer. Goal-oriented scientists working to get to the bottom of human diseases know that animal research will tell them nothing of any use, but that working with better, more predictive and more relevant methods will.
This is why the majority of research is in vitro, using human cells and tissues obtained from 'tissue banks'. This is why the use of computer modelling, bioinformatics (using computers to analyse biological data), DNA chips and human stem cells is increasing rapidly. It is why clinical studies and patient registers are forging ahead, and why massive-scale genetic screening programmes are planned, using cutting edge technology to unravel the fundamental basis of so many diseases. Ultimately, we want new, effective and safe drugs to treat our ailments, and we don't need animals biochemically far-removed from us to tell us how to do this.
We live in an age with PET (Positron Emission Tomography) and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanners that can trace miniscule amounts of new drugs through a human body to see where they go, what they do, how they are got rid of and how quickly. They can look at what's happening inside the human brain and other organs. Robotic devices can scan our genes in hours to detect abnormalities and subtle differences that can cause problems. We have no need whatsoever to resort to animal-based studies. They have always confounded what we have learnt from human studies, and never more so than GM animals. If science doesn't move onwards and upwards, away from this paradigm, we will impede medical progress by years.
Summary and Conclusions
In assessing the uses of genetically modified animals as we move into the 21st century, the considerations and deliberations of society boil down to one salient question: do they make a positive contribution to human health and wellbeing? For if they don't, then all other factors are irrelevant. If, on balance, they do more harm than good, there can be no argument for persisting with their creation and development, especially when they are destined to suffer from the moment of their birth.
In each case, we must ask if the time, money and effort being invested in improving transgenic techniques are worthwhile. Might the claims being made by the scientists involved be, to some degree, overblown, as is often the case with relatively new technologies? Do GM animals really promise to cure disease? Do they have a track record of promoting medical progress since their introduction 20 years ago? Might the resources dedicated to them be better allocated elsewhere, to more relevant research? Can any amount of genetic engineering ever make animals 'human enough' to give meaningful results?
In light of the facts and figures summarised in this report, the inescapable conclusion must be that the 'balance of trade' for GM animals is severely in the red. The harm that has been caused by their use is so widespread and comprehensive that an inordinate number of tangible successes would have to be realised even to begin to redress the balance.
Any correlation of data from research involving GM animals with the human situation is an exception, not the rule. Any future successes must be weighed against all past failures. Such data must be predictive of human diseases and responses to be of any use. There is no merit in claiming, as some do, that we must now make more use of GM animals to catalogue the differences between 'them' and 'us,' in the hope that this will enable us to sidestep the obstacles caused by species differences and make some sense of the animal models, of cancer for example. If we want cures for human cancers, the bitter experience of the past 40 years tells us to look at cancers in human beings.
Transgenesis may well be scientifically intriguing and challenging, but it is also a folly. We have shown in this report the reckless nature of transgenic research, whether ostensibly to find cures for disease or to supply organs for transplant. The price we pay is incalculable human suffering as medical progress is impeded by years, and the immense suffering of millions of animals.
It is not for those who object to animal experimentation for whatever reason to defend their stance: it is for those who support and pursue it to defend what they do with substance and hard evidence. Precious little evidence has so far been offered in defence of animal experiments that can withstand scrutiny, and GM animals are not set to change this. There is increasing demand from the general public, as well as from the scientific and medical communities, for an independent, objective, comprehensive and transparent scientific evaluation of animal research. Such an evaluation has never taken place, despite the impressive evidence calling into question the scientific value of the 'animal model'. As more substantiation of the scientific objections to animal research put forward by groups such as Animal Aid and Europeans for Medical Progress comes to light, it becomes imperative. We call upon the government to rise above the propaganda issued by those with vested interests in the continuance of animal experimentation, and make good their erstwhile promise of an inquiry into its scientific validity.
"These models do not represent the basic essence of human diseases... Prestigious journals, however, appear more fascinated with the modern mythology of transgenic and knock-out mice than the humble reality of human disease."
Dr. Francesco M. Marincola, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal
of Translational Medicine
Read the References and Glossary