1 October 2005

Leading the way beyond animal testing

By Rupert Read

There are many reasons to be against testing cosmetics, diseases and medicines on animals. Some of those reasons have been explored in recent 'One World' columns.

But the most basic reason of all is perhaps the least understood one. It is this: animal testing just doesn’t work. Europeans for Medical Progress (EMP) is a new organisation representing thousands of doctors and scientists who oppose animal experimentation exclusively because it is harmful to human health. In fact, a survey that EMP commissioned in August 2004 revealed that 82% of doctors are concerned that animal data can be misleading for humans. Sadly, the mainstream national media seems to have little interest in this perspective, preferring sensational stories of "thugs" threatening "men in white coats".

Meanwhile, we hear constantly that animal experimentation is essential for medical progress – but where is the evidence to support that claim? Whereas there is a mountain of evidence from the scientific literature against it. For example, animal experiments showed that cigarettes were safe, that high cholesterol diets were safe, that Aidsvax would protect against HIV (it doesn't), and that HRT would protect women from heart disease and stroke (it doesn't). See http://www.curedisease.net/ for many more examples.

Overwhelming evidence shows that testing drugs on animals is meaningless for people, with a successful prediction rate for side effects of only 5-30%. Tossing a coin would predict drug safety as 'effectively' as animal tests do.

Side-effects of prescription medicine are now the fourth biggest killer in the western world. How are these drugs tested for safety? On animals! Pharmaceutical companies have known for decades that animal testing is mostly scientifically worthless - pure junk science - but they use it to provide liability protection when their drugs kill or injure people. Juries are easily swayed by volumes of safety data from rats, mice, dogs and monkeys – even though it is meaningless for humans. Vioxx (the recently withdrawn arthritis painkiller) alone has killed tens or more probably hundreds of thousands of people through heart attacks and strokes – yet tests in monkeys and mice showed it protected their hearts!

As to finding cures for our most dreaded diseases, it is vital that we abandon animal experiments if we expect to see any progress here. In 1998, Dr Richard Klausner, director of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), admitted, "The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades - and it simply didn't work in humans". The NCI believes we have lost cures for cancer because they were ineffective in mice. How can animal testing actually prevent us from finding cures to diseases? Through the tests showing substances as being dangerous to animals, even though they may be harmless for – and beneficial to – humans. Just think: without animal testing, perhaps we might already have figured out a cure not only for some cancers, but also for killers such as multiple sclerosis.

I believe the idea of cures for human disease efficiently being found via research on animals to be an expensive and dangerous lie. As respected elder statesman Tony Benn has said, "There is every reason why the public should be sceptical about claims that animal testing benefits human health. It is astonishing that animal testing has never been scientifically evaluated, and the process of doing so is long overdue."

The positive news is that we already have much safer ways to test new medicines – such as DNA chips to identify who will benefit and who will suffer side effects, and sophisticated microdose studies with volunteers monitored by PET scanners – providing information that could never be obtained from animals. Switching to these 21st-century technologies will benefit both people and animals.

Forward-looking scientists have already given up animal experiments, and are using exclusively non-animal based methods, as they endeavour to uncover the basic mechanisms of human diseases. Here, for instance, is the ‘Statement of policy regarding applications for funding’ of the Humane Research Trust, which is based in Cheshire (and has a laboratory at the University of East Anglia): "No animals or animal tissue to be used. Applications need to show some advance in technique, or use existing techniques in area where it is the norm to use animals, which will lead to a reduction in animal usage and a benefit to human health." It's good to know that British 21st century non-animal-based medical research is showing scientists the world over the way to go.

Big thanks to Shelley Willets of 'Europeans for Medical Progress', for help researching this article.