"What are the alternatives to using animals in medical research?" This is a
legitimate question I am often asked, and now, due to scientific innovation and
increasing evidence of the shortcomings of animal research, it is becoming
easier to answer. A newly published
scientific paper shows that a reliance
on mice in medical research has been potentially useless for three major,
often-fatal conditions: sepsis, burns and trauma. The 10-year study, worked on
by 39 scientists from across the country, reports that humans and mice respond
to inflammation completely differently. According to The
New York Times, the researchers could not, initially, get their paper
published because the results from the human studies were so different from the
mouse studies that no one thought the findings were accurate. This highlights
how strongly and uncritically some scientists continue to believe that because
mice are mammals, their biology and physiology are comparable to our own.
So what does all of this actually mean? It means that for decades, scientists and
pharmaceutical companies have worked on developing drugs for sepsis, burns and
trauma, based on information from mouse studies, but found that the mouse
response to treatment is inconsistent with the human response. As a
result, time and money have been wasted and treatment opportunities to help
patients were delayed or overlooked.
The HSUS and Humane Society International are at the forefront of pushing for
change and have urged similar critiques of other areas of animal research. For
example, through our chimpanzee campaign we have argued there are major
problems with chimpanzee research and this was finally confirmed by the Institute of
Medicine last year. And leading research journals have published
studies by HSI scientists demonstrating the shortcomings of animal models
for the study of asthma and Alzheimer's disease.
However, it is important that we not simply focus on the failures of the
current animal research paradigm, but that we also encourage new investment in
innovation and the development of non-animal alternatives based on human cell
systems and human studies. In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences produced a
report which stated that toxicity testing without animals can be realized in
the not-too-distant future. We have launched the Human Toxicology Project Consortium
to make this vision a reality and have also been successful in getting Congress
to invest more on approaches that are faster, cheaper and more precise without
the use of animals.
The National Institutes of Health is also moving in this direction with the
launch of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences in December
of 2011. NCATS seeks, among other things, to speed the development of effective
to NIH Director Francis Collins, the development and approval of a drug
currently takes an average of 13 years, often using expensive and time-consuming
animal studies that cost more than $1 billion, yet the failure rate for these
tests exceeds 95 percent.
For one of its first projects, NCATS partnered with the Defense Advanced Research
Projects Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to provide funding for the
development of "on-a-chip"
technologies that use donated human tissue to mimic human organ systems in
order to screen for safe and effective drugs. This is a compelling example of
the possibilities of innovation in medical research, but much more is needed.
A growing number of scientists are coming to believe, as we do, that in order
to reverse the slow pace of progress in fighting cancer, asthma and other major
diseases, we need far greater investment in 21st century tools and
technologies that are directly relevant to humans. It is these modern
techniques that are better equipped to unlock the answers to human illnesses
that currently elude us, while at the same time reducing, and eventually
superseding, whole animal research. This is the future we are working to create
- a win-win for everyone.