BRED TO SUFFER - Conclusion
In this final part of the Bred to Suffer report, we draw our conclusions about the use of animals as models of human disease, and outline the other techniques already available.
A fatal mistake
Using animals as model humans is absolutely unscientific.
It contravenes fundamental principles of evolutionary biology, which state that
species adapt to diverse niches in varied and unrelated ways, thus precluding
the extrapolation of data from one to another.
The consequence of continued animal use puts all of our lives at risk. Says
Dr Irwin Bross, former Director of the world's largest cancer research institute,
'the moral is that animal model systems not only kill animals, they also kill
In fact, adverse reactions to animal-modelled medicines are now the fourth
largest cause of death in America, accounting for two million people being hospitalised
every year - 100,000 of whom die.
If it is so harmful to us, why does animal experimentation continue? One reason
is simply the momentum of convention - it has been happening for a long time,
many careers have been built upon it and, with little scientific dispute until
comparatively recently, it has become deeply ingrained. 'Sadly, young doctors
must say nothing, at least in public, about the abuse of laboratory animals,
for fear of jeopardising their career prospects.'
But the main reason is money. The vested interests intent on maintaining the
very profitable status quo are an immensely powerful lobby. The pharmaceutical
industry in Europe alone will be worth over $100 billion by 2005.
Homo sapiens: a much better model
Proponents of animal experiments claim that medical progress would cease without them. In reality, precisely the opposite would be the case, with immeasurable benefits flowing from the development and application of superior non-animal techniques, a wealth of which we already have at our disposal. The truth is, enormous improvements have been made in the diagnosis and treatment of many diseases, thanks to advances in technology that have nothing to do with animal experimentation. The arsenal of medical tools and techniques available today includes ultrasound, arterial catheters, lasers, electron microscopes, pacemakers, electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, laparoscopic surgery, bone and joint replacements, artificial organs and much more.
MRI, CAT and PET scanners, for example, allow detailed analysis of the brains and other organs of conscious patients without surgery or even discomfort. New and ever more sophisticated techniques are rapidly becoming available.
New tissue and organ culture techniques provide human material for analysing
disease processes and testing new therapies. At a stroke, interspecies differences
that have plagued biomedical research for decades are eliminated. After all,
'the only universal model for a human is other humans'.
Computer modelling is a sophisticated way to analyse and design the
molecular structure of drugs to target specific receptors. In 1997, Hoffman
La Roche had a new heart drug approved on the strength of data from a virtual
heart because the animal data was inconclusive. Research teams around the world
are working on a 'virtual human',
Autopsy studies are immensely valuable: 'Virtually the whole of modern
medical knowledge was created through the study of autopsies.'
Clinical (patient) research and clinical trials of drugs and other therapies
are very powerful tools, shaping treatment decisions for individual patients
and advancing the standards of medical care. So long as they are conducted responsibly
they can make enormous contributions to medical progress. Clinical trials would
be safer for participants if the animal testing stage was removed. 'It is impossible
to establish the reliability of animal data until humans have been exposed.'
Technological improvements continue to be made, and provide potential
for substantial future medical advancement. At the technological cutting edge,
claims are made that human stem cells may be able to repair and even replace
damaged organs in the future
Disease prevention offers the greatest hope for the 'big three' killers
- heart disease, cancer and strokes. All the evidence for the major risk factors
(smoking, high-fat diets, lack of exercise, etc) has come from epidemiological
(population) studies of people and their lifestyles. Prevention is always better
than cure, and as far as illnesses such as AIDS are concerned, 'prevention is
not just better than cure - it is the only cure'.
Thanks to advances in molecular biology and other technologies, and also to a greater appreciation of the holistic, integrated nature of humans and their diseases, we may be entering a new phase of medical advancement. But as long as animal research is involved in any way, it will continue to de-rail progress as it has done so often and with such devastating consequences in the past.
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