Professor Tipu Aziz and Paul Browne PHD
Leading neurosurgeon Professor Tipu Aziz of Oxford University and Imperial College medical school provoked controversy in 2006 when he defended the use of animals in cosmetics testing. Here, Professor Aziz collaborates with Paul Browne PHD of ‘Pro-Test’ to argue the continuing necessity of animal testing in medical research.
In recent times the debate on the need to conduct research using animals has become very heated and indeed in some cases violent. This is partly the result of lack of public understanding, which is itself a consequence of the misinformation spread by animal rights groups.
To understand the role of animal testing for the ‘New Generation’ we need only look at its successes throughout history. Animal research plays a crucial part in the development and safety testing of medicines we now take for granted. In the 1800’s animal studies were central in the development of small pox, rabies and anthrax vaccines. From 1910 to the 1930’s animal research helped to further science by aiding the development of blood transfusion and the discovery of insulin, modern anaesthetics, tetanus and diphtheria vaccines as well as anti-coagulants. Studies on mice in the 1940’s helped in the discovery of Penicillin and so introduced antibiotics to medicine. Similarly, cardiac surgery was born with the development of the heart-lung bypass, kidney dialysis was introduced and a vaccine for whooping cough was developed. The following decade saw the introduction of valvular heart surgery, cardiac pacemakers, hip replacements and drugs for elevated blood pressure. In the 1960’s we saw heart transplants, cardiac bypass grafting and vaccines against German measles and MMR.
Animal testing continues to help scientists to understand medical problems. In October 2008 three scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their discoveries of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and of the link between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer. Although their work did not directly involve the use of animals, two HPV vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, were subsequently brought to the market after extensive research and development in dogs, rabbits and cows. Studies of monkeys infected with the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) have taught us much about how HIV infects and destroys the immune system, and are critical to the development and evaluation of vaccination strategies for HIV. Scientists also used the SIV monkey model to develop effective treatment regimes that prevent transmission of viruses from a HIV infected mother to her child during birth and the post-exposure prophylaxis that helps medical professionals to avoid infection after accidental exposure to HIV-infected blood.
Other recent developments include research on monkeys which lead to the technique of Deep Brain Stimulation of the sub-thalamic nucleus allowing the alleviation of tremors and pains of Parkinson’s patients. This is currently enabling thousands of sufferers around the world to have a higher standard of living.
You might wonder how we can learn anything about ourselves from a mouse, and yet we share over 90% of our genes with these rodents. Mice have the same organs performing the same functions in more or less the same way, and suffer from many of the same or equivalent pathologies. The opportunities brought about by genetically modified (GM) mice allow us to make them even more like us. Recently transgenic mice were even given the common cold, something previously only possible in higher animals such as primates, giving hope for new treatments to help rhinoviruses which can trigger asthma attacks, and acute attacks of chronic bronchitis and emphysema, both of which kill many people in the UK.
Animal testing has clearly brought many benefits to modern medicine. If one takes the stance that any treatment developed using animals should be refused then one could not enter a hospital, see a GP or buy drugs from the pharmacy. On the back of this long list of scientific breakthroughs it should be clear that we must see animal testing as an important way of alleviating the future suffering of the New Generation.
In Mr. Miller’s article for the ALF many suggestions for alternative non-animal based methods of scientific research are suggested. Indeed, it is often quoted that computer modelling, brain imaging, tissue cultures, and other techniques are able replace the need for animals. This is not so since computer models cannot replace a whole body as our knowledge is still far from complete. Similarly, modern imaging can only give information about the behaviour of millions of neurones but not how individual ones work in a diseased state. Finally, tissue cultures are an inadequate replacement because they cannot replace the complex environment that is the living intact body. Instead, methods such as computer modeling and in vitro testing are not so much replacement methods as they are complementary ones, being used alongside the animal research.
Contrary to anti-research criticism, animal research is not done because it is cheap. In fact it is extremely expensive, especially since the regulating laws are so stringent. The strict regulation of animal testing in the UK means that any new projects having to pass ethics committees to ensure that the potential benefit to humans outweighs the cost to the animals involved. Behind the high welfare standards are the 3Rs; Replacement of animal methods with alternatives wherever possible, Reducing the number of animals used, and Refining our care to animals by ensuring suitable enrichment activities and training welfare staff to the highest standard. It is within this framework of regulation that any developments to animal research should be made. That is to say, the New Generation should look to develop animal testing rather than abolish it.
This list of medical discoveries illustrates the point that if animals were not used none of these therapies and so many others would not exist. The result would be that literally millions of people would not receive suitable treatment. With a lack of suitable alternatives the New Generation should use the same logic to see animal research as crucial to the development of new medicines to fight cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease as well as inherited diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and many other life threatening or debilitating illnesses.
For more about current campaigns visit the Pro-test website.