Monthly Archives: May 2014

Old habits die hard

Source: Fotopedia/ Trois Têtes (TT)

Source: Fotopedia/ Trois Têtes (TT)

Old habits die hard, although we know better. This is not only true for medical doctors’ (in Australian hospitals) lack of compliance with hand hygiene, but also for researchers who use outdated animal experimentation methods and extrapolate their findings to humans. But humans are not 70kg rats. Animals are not good models for the study of the human body and human diseases. This is why nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies. We cannot accurately predict how drugs based on animal studies in the laboratory will perform in people.

Most people would understand why not washing hands between treating hospital patients can cause harm. But the public is only slowly realising that much animal research is not only unethical, but has little if any benefit for humans. It might even have prevented researchers from developing drugs that work for humans but have the opposite effects in animals.

So many arguments speak against animal experimentation:

  • the decline in public support for animal research
  • ethical reasons against the use of animals
  • the lack of usefulness of animal research
  • the notional commitment to the 3Rs (replacement, reduction, refinement) by governments and the research community.

And yet the number of laboratory animals is steadily increasing in Australia and in other countries.

Better scientific options are available for teaching and learning, basic research and toxicity testing.

A ferret at CSIRO AAHL, photographer: Frank Filippi

Source: Frank Filippi, CSIRO AAHL

Basic research

NORINA , an English-language Norwegian inventory of alternatives includes over 3,800 records. These refer to audio-visual aids for schools and universities that may be used as alternatives or supplements to the use of animals in teaching and training, including dissection alternatives.

InterNICHE offers another database for alternatives within biological science, medical and veterinary medical education and a studies database.

Animalearn provides resources for educators and students at no cost.

Simulation animal models are an option for veterinary students to practice diagnostic and practical skills without the need to endanger or cause unnecessary discomfort to live animals.

Toxicity testing

Despite testing new compounds and drugs on animals, the frequency of liver and other toxicities associated with new medicines remains at unacceptable levels. At the same time, more reliable, safer, and often cheaper and faster alternatives are available.

Several promising new developments have recently been brought to the attention of the public.

Alternative livers have great potential to not only reduce the number of experimental animals, but also to be much more accurate in predicting toxicity in humans. An additional benefit can be the speed of testing.

At a recent American Chemical Society national meeting Dr Mukund Chorghade announced that his team at the company Empiriko had developed chemosynthetic livers that mimic metabolic processes. This technology called Biomimiks™ could soon replace the use of animals currently being used to test drugs and speed up drug testing.

Chorghade and his team have already demonstrated how Biomimiks™ works with about 50 pharmaceutical compounds. They are now working to test 100 drugs, which is the number required by the U.S. FDA for regulatory approval. (I wrote more about this in a previous post)

In the UK, a team from Cambridge University developed “mini-livers” from adult mouse stem cells. In February, this research won the UK’s international prize for the scientific and technological advance with the most potential to replace, reduce or refine the use of animals in science (the 3Rs). One of the researchers involved said that using this method, cells from one mouse could be used to test 1,000 drug compounds to treat liver disease, and reduce animal use by up to 50,000.

Organs-on-chips are another alternative to traditional animal tests that often fail to predict human responses. These are

microchips that recapitulate the microarchitecture and functions of living organs, such as the lung, heart, and intestine. … Each individual organ-on-chip is composed of a clear flexible polymer about the size of a computer memory stick that contains hollow microfluidic channels lined by living human cells.

Another recent example is the development of a skin layer grown from human stem cells that can be used in drug and cosmetics testing.

Go3R, a search engine for alternative methods to animal experiments and AltTox.org, a database with alternatives for toxicity testing include many options for researchers who are serious about the 3Rs.

In Australia and in all countries that experiment on animals, there are compelling reasons for a much greater use of better scientific methods and a move away from the animal model paradigm in biomedical testing and research. An impressive range of non-animal basic research and toxicity testing methods is already available.

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Tide of opinion turns against the use of animals in research

Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

The number of people who have concerns about animal research is increasing. Some feel we have no right to subject sentient beings to pain and distress with the aim of furthering our knowledge or testing drugs. Others have come to the conclusion that animals are not good models for human diseases. Increasingly, research studies find that we can never be sure that the results will be applicable in humans.

Data from Australia, the U.S., the UK and other European countries show that attitudes to animal research are changing.

Australia

A 2013 opinion poll commissioned by Humane Research Australia and carried out by Nexus Research found that:

  • Only 57% of the general public is even aware that animals are used in experimental research in Australia.
  • 64% of respondents do not believe that humans have the moral right to experiment on animals.
  • Only 13% of respondents said that they would donate to health or medical research charity if they knew it were funding animal experiments.
  • More than half the population (56%) do not believe that it is always safe to transfer results from animal research to apply to humans. A further 31% didn’t know.
  • 81% consider that the number of animals used for research and teaching in Australia (approx. 7 million p.a.) is unacceptable or is capable of reduction.
  • 81% agreed that Australia should follow the European Union and ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. The number increased to 85% for females.
  • 73% support allocating a proportion of medical research grants to funding scientific alternatives to animal experiments.

United States

The first national survey on this topic was conducted in 1948 by the National Opinion Research Center. The survey found that 84% of the public supported the use of animals in experiments, while 8% opposed it.

Since 2001, Gallup has conducted annual “Values and Beliefs” surveys. The surveys use a representative sample of the general public and consist mainly of questions not related to animals. The same questions are asked each year. According to this poll, in the decade to 2011 opposition to animal testing increased from 33% to 43%. Fifty-two percent of women and 33% of men opposed animal testing. The opposition to animal testing increased most among people under 30 years: an increase of 25% to 59%. The views of people aged 65 years and older did not change significantly over the decade.

The 2013 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll found the following extent of support for the statement that medical testing on animals is generally acceptable:

  • People aged 18 to 34 years – 47%
  • People aged 35 to 54 years – 60%
  • People aged 55 and older – 61%.
Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

United Kingdom

In 2012 Ipsos MORI conducted a survey on awareness of and public attitudes towards the use of animals in scientific research. The study was sponsored by the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and involved people aged 15 years and older. Compared to previous Ipsos Mori surveys, support for animal research has declined.

In the 2012 survey, Ipsos MORI found the proportion of those who object to animal research to be 37%. Young people aged 15-24 were most likely to not support animal research because of the importance they place on animal welfare (46%).

The survey also found a lack of trust in the regulatory system about animal experimentation (33%), and more than half the respondents (51%) suspected unnecessary duplication of animal experiments.

Eighty-eight percent of respondents felt not well informed about government initiatives to develop non-animal methods of scientific research and testing. Just under half (48%) said they would like to find out more about efforts to find alternatives to using animals in experimentation for scientific research purposes.

A 2012 ComRes survey of British adults aged 18+ found the following levels of support for four statements about the use of animals in research:

  • “Scientists should be able to induce conditions in mice such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s to help them find medical treatments for those conditions” – 70% agreed, 24% disagreed, 7% responded “don’t know”.
  • “Animal experimentation for medical research purposes should only be conducted for life-threatening diseases and no other conditions” – 65% agreed, 30% disagreed, 5% “don’t know”.
  • “I feel more comfortable with animal research on mice than I do on larger mammals like cats, dogs and monkeys” – 56% agreed, 38% disagreed, 7% “don’t know”.
  • “The government should ban all experiments on animals for any form of medical research” – 31% agreed, 62% disagreed, 7% “don’t know”.
Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Europe

A 2009 survey in six European countries (Germany, France, UK, Italy, Czech Republic, Sweden) conducted by YouGov found:

  • 84% of respondents agree or mostly agree that new guidelines should ban all animal experiments that cause severe pain and suffering.
  • 81% agree or mostly agree that new guidelines should ban all animal experiments that cause pain or suffering in monkeys.
  • 73% are against or mostly against guidelines that allow experimentation to cause pain or suffering in cats.
  • 77% are against or mostly against guidelines that allow experimentation to cause pain or suffering in dogs.
  • 79% support or mostly support guidelines that ban all animal experiments unrelated to serious or life threatening human diseases.
  • 80% support or mostly support the publication of all information in regard to animal experimentation, except confidential data that would allow disclosure of names of researchers or their work places.

A 2011 survey by DemoSCOPE in Switzerland found strong opposition to research using dogs. (percentages for those respondents who lived with dogs are in brackets)

  • Should dogs be used in painful experiments to find cures for diseases in dogs? — 23%  answered yes (7%), 70% (89%) were against such research, and 7% (4%) were undecided.
  • Should dogs be used in painful experiments to find cures for diseases in humans? — 28% agreed (18%), while 65% disagreed (79%) and 7% (3%) were undecided.
  • Should dogs be used in painful experiments to better understand the risks of poisons such as pesticides? — Only 14% agreed (9%), while 79% (88%) disagreed. Seven percent (3%) were undecided.
Exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things

In all these countries, a significant proportion of people is opposed to any animal experimentation. This proportion increases when procedures cause pain and when the animals are monkeys, cats or dogs. Younger people and women are most likely to oppose animal experiments.

The trend is clear: the tide of opinion is turning against the use of animals in research. This sends a clear message to politicians and scientists to adapt current legislation and guidelines to reflect the views of the public.

Alternatives to using animals in medical research are already available (more about this in the next post). It’s time to stop harming and killing laboratory animals and focus on alternatives.

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The four images are from an exhibition by Lynn Mowson: Beautiful Little Dead Things: empathy, trauma, witnessing and the absent referent. The Student Gallery, Victorian College of the Arts, 6-14 March 2014.