Man or Mouse
Hundreds of millions of genetically modified (GM) animals are used in medical research and in the testing of drugs and chemicals every year. In response to their increasing utilisation, Animal Aid has commissioned this report, which examines the GM animal phenomenon, and shows that they have made no tangible contributions to human health and medicine - and, for sound scientific reasons - are never likely to do so.
In this report we show that:
- The annual total number of animal experiments in the UK was in steep decline from 1975 to 1985, during which time it fell by around 40%. The use of 'normal' (non-GM) animals has continued to decline at a similar rate since 1985, as scientists have abandoned this approach due to its lack of success and relevance to human health. The increased use of GM animals has, however, reversed the overall trend. Because of GM animals, the number of animal experiments is once again increasing, with GM animals constituting almost one third of all procedures.
- GM research has failed to live up to its promise. Rather than 'fixing' the old non-GM animal models by genetically manipulating them to resemble more closely human beings and human diseases, this process has revealed itself to be hopelessly inefficient and crude. Some 70% of the time when a GM animal intended to replicate a human disease is created, it does not 'perform' as expected. Put simply the, actions of, and interactions between, our genes are much more complex than first thought: minor genetic differences between individual humans combine to be greater than the sum of the parts. To expect to derive useful information from another species altogether is extraordinary.
- Modelling human diseases with GM animals has been disastrous. Cystic fibrosis (CF) and Alzheimer's disease (AD) have been extensively researched using GM animals, which has served only to confound our knowledge of them and to impede progress. CF affects the pancreas in almost all human sufferers, and kills via lung infections. Mice with 'identical' genetic mutations to human CF patients do not show these effects, but rather die early from intestinal blockages not seen in humans. GM animals have failed to replicate the pathology of human AD: GM mice with identical brain pathology to human AD sufferers show no or only slight effects, and have failed to shed any light on the function of genes strongly linked with human AD. Other GM animal models of human diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes have failed similarly Nor should we expect a different outcome from currently 'fashionable' projects, such as the new genetically manipulated mouse 'model' of Down's Syndrome. In contrast, human-specific research methods continue to make significant contributions to medical progress in these areas.
- GM animals have failed in all fields in which they have been applied. Animals have been engineered to be more predictive models in toxicology testing, but this has not been realised. Engineering animals to grow organs for human transplants has been futile and is considered highly dangerous because of the risk of 'novel' disease organisms passing from 'donor' animal to human recipient and from there into the wider population. While some animals have been created who can produce drugs in their milk, for example, there are questions surrounding the need for this. There are also serious concerns regarding the welfare of the animals involved. Cloning of various animals has been reported in the media, but continues to be extremely inefficient, with poor survival rates, significant welfare problems and a high incidence of defects and abnormalities.
- Human-specific research, utilising tried and tested methods that have contributed greatly to medical progress, along with cutting-edge technologies, are the only way to achieve safe, efficient cures and treatments for human diseases in the shortest possible time. Increasing numbers of scientists and doctors agree, and are turning to research methods involving - for example: human tissue and cells, computer modelling, DNA 'microarray' chips, microfluidics and advanced scanning technologies - shunning animal-based approaches.
- On balance, GM animals have made a negative contribution to human medicine. At the same time, it must be recognised that competition for medical sector funding remains acute. An important choice confronts society: the choice between more resources directed at animal-based research with a fruitless track record - or support for work that is directly relevant to the patients of today and tomorrow. Animal Aid believes that a comprehensive scientific evaluation of animal-based approaches to research is absolutely imperative to achieve real medical progress.