Leading cancer charity funds ‘crude and archaic’ animal experiments

Posted on the 31st March 2015

Furless mice injected with human cancer cells
Rats chemically poisoned for six months
Mice genetically modified to develop cancer

Cancer Research UK (CRUK) has been criticised by Animal Aid for helping to fund a series of ‘crude and archaic’ animal experiments that were conducted at Edinburgh University. The experiments, which were investigating treatments for bile duct cancer, involved injecting genetically modified (GM) mice with human cancer cells, while other groups of rodents were forced to endure around six months of chemical poisoning to induce cancer. Campaigners have accused CRUK of using clumsy and outdated methods that have been widely criticised in the scientific literature.

One of the CRUK-supported experiments used ‘nude mice’ – furless rodents who have been genetically modified to suffer from a weakened immune system. These mice were injected with human cancer cells, and made to endure the growth of a tumour inside them for three weeks before some of them were given treatments to reduce its severity. Another experiment used a different group of GM mice, who had been engineered to develop cancer when subjected to around six months of chemical poisoning. The chemical used was thioacetamide (TAA) – a substance that has traditionally been employed by the leather and motor fuel industries. A group of rats were subjected to the same disturbing poisoning regime.

Animal Aid argues that the methods used are outdated as well as cruel. Injecting human cancer cells into mice has long been regarded as a highly unreliable means of predicting how humans will respond to treatments. Unlike the mice used in such research, human cancer patients have a functioning immune system, and this has a significant impact on the course of the disease. Even CRUK appears to have little faith in this method of research, declaring in a promotional poster that ‘the time for reliance on such models to determine the response to a new therapy has passed’.

Animal Aid is similarly critical of the practice of genetically modifying mice or poisoning rats in an attempt to ‘model’ bile duct cancer. Altering one or two genes in mice, argues the group, is a reductionist, simplistic approach, since human cancers are usually caused by multiple mutations in co-existent cells, and depend on a highly individualised cellular environment. Poisoning rodents has, unsurprisingly, repeatedly failed to generate progress in the treatment of bile duct cancer. Treatments that appeared successful in these tests, such as sorafenib, have had to be withdrawn from clinical trials for bile duct cancer. After all, humans do not develop this type of cancer by being forced to ingest a chemical from the leather industry.

Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler:

‘Despite its multi-million pound income and slick corporate image, CRUK has chosen to fund a crude and archaic series of experiments that use hopelessly outdated methods which have little prospect of leading to the cures and treatments that patients so urgently need. In the days of computer modelling, sophisticated cell-based techniques and high-resolution scanning, it is absurd that one of the UK’s leading cancer charities is paying for rats to be poisoned with an industrial chemical and mice to be injected with human cancer cells. CRUK has serious questions to answer about how it decides which research to fund. If this scheme meets its test, then something is seriously wrong. In 2013-14, CRUK had a fundraising income of £490million. It has a duty to its dedicated fundraisers and donors, not to mention the victims of cancer, to ensure that this money is spent on research that has a genuine chance of contributing to medical progress.’

Editors’ Notes:


    • References and copies of scientific papers are available on request.
    • For more information about the experiments, please visit our Victims of Charity website 
    • This latest exposé forms part of Animal Aid’s Victims of Charity campaign, which seeks to end the funding of animal experiments by medical research charities. Experiments previously exposed by the initiative have included dogs and pigs being deliberately given heart attacks (supported by the British Heart Foundation), marmoset monkeys being brain damaged with a toxic chemical (supported by the Cure Parkinson’s Trust), and the Motor Neurone Disease Association (the main UK beneficiary of the ice bucket challenge craze), spending more than £1million funding experiments on mice. More information is available on our website 
    • To arrange an interview with Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler, please call 01732 364546.

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