Mexicans, Strokes and FRAME

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Mexicans, Strokes and FRAME

By Ray Greek, M.D. on National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS)
May 2009

[Ed. Note: FRAME - Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments]

Two items in Science First this week concern differences among humans. The Mexican Genome Project revealed that people of Mexican Mestizo and Indigenous decent differ greatly from other humans in their genetic make-up. Studies like this will someday lead to knowledge that will explain why people of Mexican descent seem to be more susceptible to diabetes and other diseases. The second article discussed the fact that women differ from men in how they present when having a stroke. Women are also known to differ from men in numerous ways including the symptoms they experience when having a heart attack and in drug side effects.

The reason these articles are important is that they are examples of the underlying rationale why animals cannot predict human response. Even humans differ from each other in ways that are very important when it comes to disease and drug response. If humans cannot predict how other humans are going to respond to a medication, how can any reasonable person think another species will? And if we suspend reality for a moment and assume animals can predict human response, we must then ask, “for which humans?” The ones who did well with the drug or the ones who needed a liver transplant after they took it?

The fact is, every drug is helpful to someone and harmful to someone else.

Vivisection is sold to society on the grounds that it makes our medications safer and predicts response and mechanisms of human diseases. Neither of these things is true. Animals cannot predict drug efficacy or toxicity nor can scientists learn, by studying animals, how HIV enters a cell or the mechanism of cancer.

Based on the above, the research community, or at least groups claiming to be part of the animal protection community, should be pointing out that testing on a different species is not likely to predict human outcome. Is that what is happening?

Michael Festing of FRAME in the UK wrote in an editorial in ATLA in February 2009:

In the long run, it would be highly desirable to replace all animal toxicity tests by in vitro tests, as suggested by a committee of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2007. However, research to make this possible will probably take many years. In the meantime, the animal tests need to be substantially improved.

But there is one simple way in which scientists could substantially improve testing methods and pave the way for the personalised medicine of the future, without using any more animals. They should control and identify the genetic variation in the rats and mice used in their experiments—something which they completely fail to do at present.

This is typical rhetoric from the Three Rs community. Paraphrased, what Festing is saying is that we know animal tests do not predict human outcome but until we find tests that do we cannot abandon testing on animals. This is completely irrational. Festing’s suggestion, that we use genetically identical or at least similar animals in toxicity testing is equally fallacious. His reasoning goes something like this:

P1. Animal testing in toxicity currently is not predictive because of genetic dissimilarities among the test animals.

P2. If the test animals were genetically similar they would be predictive for humans.

Conclusion. Make the test animals genetically similar.

The elephant in the room in Festing’s logic, indeed the elephant in the room in every Three Rs endorsement and discussion, is the fact that animals, genetically similar or dissimilar, cannot predict human toxicity response. Dress up the argument any way you wish, you will never make a human out of a mouse, monkey, or dog. P1 should be: Animal testing in toxicity currently is not predictive because of genetic and other dissimilarities between species.

Festing then says, “However, research to make this [replacing animals] possible will probably take many years.” What this really means is: But let's not go overboard and abandon animals in toxicity testing as that would put many people out of work and challenge the entire notion that animals should be used in biomedical science.

Festing defends the Three Rs with myth:

The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique by Russell and Burch, published 50 years ago this year, has had a major impact on the use of animals in biomedical research.

This is simply untrue as in the same issue of ATLA an article points out that the number of animals used appears to be increasing. The fact is that the number of animals used is increasing. So much for Reduction. Festing:

The Three Rs: Replacement, Refinement and Reduction, provide a framework in which each animal experiment can be ethically assessed. Could the results be obtained without using animals? If not, how can pain, suffering and lasting harm be minimised in the proposed experiment, and how can the number of animals used be reduced without loss of information? The Three Rs are now established in European legislation...

Having worked in two university medical schools, been friends with vivisectors, and personally performed experiments with animals, I can assure the reader that the Three Rs are a checklist the researchers must complete. That’s it! There is no thought that goes into this. The researcher is trying to obtain funding or otherwise get ahead in his chosen profession. He views animals as nothing but a means to an end. He does not spend hours contemplating whether this research protocol, that he learned over four years in graduate school and is the only one he knows how to do, is actually producing data that can be extrapolated to humans or whether the data could be discovered without animals. This is sheer myth. I have been there.

Real medical science long ago acknowledged that differences between humans mean that what works in one may not work in another. In medicine, physicians have long thought of animal experimenters as people who could not get into medical school and had to find a different way to make a living. They have never been greatly respected and the results from their research is simply ignored as it has no relevance to humans. Despite this, and in part because physicians are not as vocal on this as they should be, society continues to accept vivisection as a necessary evil.

It would be nice if at least the so-called animal protection groups like FRAME acknowledged that animals are not predictive for humans in toxicity testing and acknowledged what that implies.

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