Animal Writes
From 11 May 2003 Issue

The End of Animal Research
By Robert Cohen - [email protected] 

April 19, 2003 -- I attended an animal research conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The title of the conference was, "Testsmart - An Efficient and Humane Approach to Predictors of Potential Toxic Effects of Drugs." Not since the Trojan War has there been a horse more beautifully adorned than this conference of ulterior motives. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. Sage advice regarding Greeks bearing Trojan horses. Odysseus hid in the belly of one such wooden horse offered as tribute to the city of Troy, which would soon fall prey to the passions and courage of a handful of warriors. I would be Odysseus. I would infiltrate this insider's club. I would hide within the belly of the beast.

My fellow attendees were directors of corporate pharmaceutical research animal laboratories, and FDA "dinosaurs" who write and enforce the rules and regulations requiring that animal research studies be the first step in the approval process for new pharmaceuticals.

The average new drug approval costs hundreds of millions of dollars and takes many years. What a waste of resources. Scientists could easily eliminate the animal research phase and place all new drugs and techniques on the fast track to approval. That would benefit the drug companies, humankind, and of course, the animals.

The conference was set up by an extension of Johns Hopkins University, the Bloomberg School of Public Health. Within that group is an organization named the "Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing." The session chair was Alan Goldberg. Dr. Goldberg heads CAAT, which name hints at the unveiled motive of the sponsor. Indeed, CAAT was founded by Henry Spira, one of the heroes of the animal rights movement. Spira was everybody's animal rights "guru" of the 1960s and 1970s. At the same time that I was observing the implantation of an electrode in a cat's hypothalamus at the Museum of Natural History in 1972, Henry Spira was outside with signs protesting the torture within. At that time, I was the clueless idealist animal researcher seeking a cure for cancer.

The goal of Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives for Animals Testing is to reduce the "need" to use animals as research models, and to one day completely eliminate all animal testing.

I looked forward to attending the conference. Picking up the tab as co-sponsor was Huntingdon Labs, villain to animal rights advocates. Why was Huntingdon exploring alternatives to animal research? Did they recognize that alternatives existed, and the wave of the future was in studying human tissue samples?

While at the conference, I made it my goal to ask every one of the 80 or so attendees one question, "Can you give me an example of anything that humankind has learned from an animal study which can be applied to humans?" The question seemed easy to answer, defend, rationalize. Yet, no man or woman could come up to the task. That question led to many heated discussions which took up the better part of my three-day weekend.

By the time I got to one of the major players, she had been alerted that I was coming. This woman represented a company that supplies transgenic mice and rats to research laboratories. Her name was Donna Gulezian, and she worked for Taconic Farms, and I was seeking to interview her. I put on my best interviewers face, and approached Ms. Gulezian with a smile. "Mind if I ask you a few questions?"

"Yes, I do," she responded.

She was dressed in black and did not smile. Her face was tense and her body language communicated anger.

"I just wanted to ask whether Taconic Farms will be exploring non-animal models for lab testing."

"I have no comment for you." She turned to leave.

"Excuse me, aren't you one of the sponsors of this conference, and aren't you listed on the program as the session chair, today?"

"I'm not going to talk to you."

That was the end of that. We avoided each other for the remainder of the conference.

I looked carefully at the list of conference attendees, and noted that not one representative from Huntingdon was registered. I soon learned why. Huntingdon raises animals for research. They've been guilty of animal abuse, and USDA has taken them to task. As part of their punishment, it has been mandated that Huntingdon sponsor conferences such as this one.

"Aren't they paying for this?" I asked Alan Goldberg of Johns Hopkins Department of Environmental Health Services.

"In more ways than you could imagine," he laughed.

"I don't get it. Why aren't they here?" He shook his head.

Which brings me to a press release that was posted this past Monday, April 14th, by Fluor Corporation, a construction company.

Fluor will be building one of the world's largest cell culture manufacturing facilities. They've been selected by Biogen to design and build a laboratory, administrative offices, warehouse, and other facilities. Biogen is the oldest biotechnology firm in the world, and one of the leaders in biologic research.

Hundreds of thousands of human tissue samples are stored in various world labs. Tissue samples of lymphotropic virus from Indians in Panama. Cultures of breast and prostate cancers from African Americans in New Jersey. Samples of Wilms tumors from the Chinese, and astrocytomas from diet soda drinkers. CJD (Mad Cow) and Alzheimers, multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Spleens and kidneys, pancreatic tissues, ovaries, stem cells. All kept in vials and stored for future research.

Human skin grown for burn victims. Eyes for the sightless, and hair follicles for the bald. Oh, the miracles that modern science will produce for our future world.

Animal research teaches us many things. We learn that rats get cancer if they smoke 14 packs of cigarettes each day. We learn that pigs will suffer if we apply a blowtorch to their skin for 30 seconds. We learn that chimpanzees will roll their eyes to the tops of their skulls when we surgically remove their tongues, and we are amazed that white rabbits will lose their vision when 28% acetic acid is applied to their eyes.

Yes, animal research teaches us many things about the specific species being tested. Unfortunately, when humans apply such learning about other mammals to our own human species, one never obtains same exact results. Humans have completely different systems than do other non-human animals. Rat models are not models at all for human biological systems. That is why human tissue culture studies make so much sense.

Ultimately, before a pharmaceutical is approved, there are human tests and clinical trials performed upon paid human volunteers. Why not skip the animal research and go directly to the human cell culture studies, then human testing?

That is exactly what Biogen will one day be doing. I applaud the construction of their new cell culture facility. Construction shall be completed by the year 2006. I expect, in my lifetime, to see an end to all animal research. It was never needed to justify a drug approval. It has always been a betrayal to the animals who suffered, and the humans who painfully relied upon such research.

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