Dr. Ray Greek,
Americans for Medical Advancement (AFMA)
On August 18, 2008, an op-ed by Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation
for Biomedical research appeared in the LA Times. I wrote the following in
response, but it was rejected by the LA Times which is, unfortunately, not
unusual. Despite their protestations otherwise, the media is rarely
interested in both sides when it comes to challenging the animal
The debate over the use of animals in research has escalated lately due in part to the acts of terrorism committed by those opposed to such use. Society has heard the philosophical arguments for and against using animals in biomedical research but the scientific arguments have not received as much attention.
There are many ways animals can be and are being used in science in general that are viable from a scientific perspective. Dissecting animals in high school teaches the student fundamental concepts about animals and life in general. Many patients are alive today because of tissue harvested from animals such as aortic valves, insulin, and lung surfactant. Animals can be used in research to search for fundamental truths; such as the fact that the cell is the building block of life and that genes are how heritable traits are transmitted from generation to generation.
Importantly however, there are ways in which the use of animals is not scientifically viable. Animals cannot predict the response of humans to drugs or disease. I am not saying animals and humans have nothing in common in terms of disease and drug response, merely that the commonalities are insufficient to be predictive. Testing a drug on a monkey or rat will not predict what the drug will do to you. Even humans cannot reliably predict drug and disease response for other humans. Vioxx and Rezulin are but two examples. Many patients responded well to those drugs but others died.
Physicians have noticed for decades that humans do not respond identically to drugs or disease. Even identical twins do not always react the same. Because of advances in science from research, such as the Human Genome Project, we now understand that very small differences in genetic make-up or environment can lead to a drug curing you but killing your sister. Today medicine is aiming for, and in some circumstances has achieved, the goal of personalized medicine. Personalized medicine is diagnosis and treatment based on your unique genetic make-up. We are already seeing this in treatments of cancer and other diseases.
If one human cannot predict disease and drug response for another it is silly to think another species will do better. Yet this is what society is told by many in the animal-based research community. “Your dog or your child” is a frequent refrain. The fact is that using dogs or mice in research is not going to make medications safer or more effective. Using animals is not going to inform us about HIV/AIDS in humans. In order to find a vaccine or cure for AIDS we must study human tissues and humans in general. Fortunately this is being done but animal studies continue to garner the lion’s share of grant money.
Those with a vested interest in using animals as predictive models for humans also list what they claim are the past successes of using animals. These claims have been questioned and in some cases refuted by those without a financial interest in using animals. Regardless, today we want medical treatment based on our genes not our dog’s.
I condemn unconditionally terrorism such as that perpetrated in Santa Cruz recently. I also condemn wasting taxpayer money on research methods that have been proven ineffective when patients need cures. These are two separate issues and society should carefully consider them as such. Opposition to violence does not imply support to an outmoded status quo.
Animal Rights Terrorism
By Frankie Trull
[Frankie Trull is the president of the Washington-based Foundation for
Biomedical Research, which supports the humane and responsible use of
animals in medical and scientific research.]
Activists have used increasingly dangerous tactics on researchers whose goal is to save lives.
The firebombings of the car and home of two UC Santa Cruz researchers earlier this month reveal an unwelcome reality: Animal rights extremism is getting worse.
Over the last several years, militants have shifted their focus from breaking into research labs and institutions to targeting researchers and their families at home. In the past, they protested against scientists who work with higher species, such as nonhuman primates and dogs; now, they are even targeting researchers who use fruit flies.
These attacks, considered domestic terrorism and attempted homicide, should be a wake-up call to law enforcement. Congress recognized the danger that animal rights militants pose when it passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006. This law gave the FBI additional tools to pursue animal rights extremism and increased penalties for crimes related to it. The FBI has not apprehended anyone since the law was passed. It needs to make these crimes a higher priority.
The Santa Cruz bombings are just the latest instances of animal rights terrorism, a nationwide problem, although there seems to be a particularly active group of extremists in California. The attacks have included firebombs lobbed at homes, letters rigged with razor blades, firecrackers placed in mailboxes and vandalism.
These extremists have chosen to circumvent the legal system and use fear and terror as their primary weapons. In the last two years, the severity of home attacks has been alarming. In June 2006, the Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility for an attempt to firebomb a UCLA researcher's home; it placed the bomb at the wrong house. In June 2007, a group called the Animal Liberation Brigade took credit for placing a firebomb under another UCLA researcher's car. Fortunately, the bombs in both cases failed to go off. Last October, the Animal Liberation Front said it was behind the flooding of a UCLA researcher's home with a garden hose, causing up to $30,000 in damage. In February, an incendiary device charred the front door of that same researcher. Also in February, six masked activists demonstrating at a UC Santa Cruz researcher's home pounded on her door and allegedly assaulted her husband when he confronted them.
Animal rights groups sensationalize animal research by portraying scientists as violent animal torturers. In fact, researchers who use animals in their quest for new drugs and medical breakthroughs are human beings who dedicate their lives to alleviating the pain and suffering of both people and animals.
Animal research is done humanely and only when necessary; it is highly regulated by the federal government; and it is the foundation for almost every medical breakthrough of the last century. From antibiotics to blood transfusions, from dialysis to organ transplantation, from vaccinations to chemotherapy, bypass surgery and joint replacement — practically every present-day practice for the prevention, treatment, cure and control of disease is based on knowledge attained through research using laboratory animals.
About 95% of all lab animals are mice and rats — bred specifically for research. They are the animal model of choice for researchers because their physiology closely resembles that of humans and their genetic makeup is well defined. For instance, the mouse genome contains essentially the same complement of genes found in the human genome, so studying how the genes work in mice is an effective way of discovering the role of a gene in human health and disease.
Terrorist attacks like the ones in Santa Cruz have significant implications for the future of science in this country. Who knows what research might be curtailed by this terrorism? It's time for law enforcement to send a message to animal rights extremists by making a more concerted effort to apprehend those involved.
Originally published in the LA Times, August 18, 2008.
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