Every year, hundreds of millions of animals are used around the world in experiments. They are injected with diseases foreign to their species, driven insane, electric shocked, blinded, concussed, burned, frozen, drowned, mechanically raped and dismembered – all in the name of human health and well-being.
It’s not an issue that many people like to think about let alone address. We can argue that it’s cruel, that it’s unethical and that we should respect animals and afford them rights, but when we are involved in debate with researchers, or with parents of children born with genetic defects or who have terminal cancer, every ethical argument is cast aside. Children are considered more important and we are dismissed as caring more for animals than for people. Animal experiments are thus considered a ‘necessary evil’ and are kept hidden behind closed doors - and animals continue to suffer in silence.
Currently, more than seven million animals are used in research and teaching in Australia every year. Whilst the procedures these animals are subjected to vary greatly in severity – from minor observational studies to highly invasive surgery and death – there is no doubt that there is a strong ethical argument against using sentient beings as ‘tools for research’. In order to provide a factual, non-emotive picture however, it essential that we also consider the scientific arguments against the use of animals in medical research.
Humans differ from other animals anatomically, genetically and metabolically, meaning data derived from animals cannot be extrapolated to humans with sufficient accuracy. Failure to address these differences has resulted in such disasters as:
• Smoking experiments on dogs which failed to prove that it causes cancer. This delayed warnings on cigarette packets for decades which is likely to have cost thousands of lives.
• Thalidomide, whereby tens of thousands on children were born with serious deformities including missing limbs.
• The synthetic estrogen (Diethylstillbestrol or DES), prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriage, increased spontaneous abortions, premature births and neonatal deaths, and also increased risk of vaginal cancer in daughters
• Vioxx, a drug proven to be cardioprotective in mice yet caused heart attacks in humans and is subsequently the subject of a class action against the manufacturer.
• TGN 1412, whereby six healthy volunteers become seriously ill after participating in a clinical trial of a new drug in the UK. This is despite the fact that the drug had completed pre-clinical trials (animal tests) which did not indicate there was likely to be any serious side effects in humans.
These well known cases are not isolated. In fact there are hundreds more where the results may not have been so devasting and therefore not publicized. Drugs are regularly recalled after being deemed safe through animal tests. Regardless of whatever results are taken from animal experiments, ultimately it is humans that are the real guinea pigs. It is essential that we accept that species differences will always mean that humans metabolise and will react to drugs differently than other species.
Even when genetically modified, there is no single animal model that can accurately mimic the complex human situation. There are far too many unknown variables that cannot all be accounted for. Instead, we now have scientific technologies such as microfluidic chips and microdosing. Not only do these techniques analyse the effects of drugs on an entire living system, they analyse a human living system, eliminating error caused by species differences and resulting in data that is relevant to humans.
A battery of human-specific methodologies in pre clinical testing is far more predictive than depending on data from another species. Even the US FDA confirms that nine out of ten drugs ‘proven’ successful in animal tests fail in human trials. This not only questions the efficacy and very base argument for using animals, but critically raises the question about all the drugs that failed in animals which might have worked in humans. How many discarded cures for cancer?
Systematic reviews conducted in the areas of toxicity testing and biomedical research have shown that alternatives are far more predictive of human outcomes than data obtained from animals.
In the past, much research has been based on animals because we didn’t know any better. Today we are far more aware of the dangers of extrapolating from one species to another and we have scientific research methods – mass spectrometry, genome mapping, innovative imaging techniques and highly developed computer models capable of simulating parts of the human body as mathematical equations and three-dimensional graphical models just to name a few more.
Terminally-ill patients don't care whether a cancer drug works on a mouse, or that some disease can be cured in another species. Such claims only taunt them with false hope. These people need real cures based on real science – not misleading and antiquated animal experiments.
Visit www.humaneresearch.org.au for more information on how you can help bring an end to animal experiments.