Time To Move Past Animal Experimental Model

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Time To Move Past Animal Experimental Model

By Robin Cutson, Newsobserver.com
January 2009

University of North Carolina (UNC) is expanding its animal research labs and storage facilities. This is as backward as ignoring solar energy to build more coal-burning power plants since medical advances have rendered most animal research outdated.

In 2008, Medical News Today reported advancements in human brain imaging were proving better at devising pain management for conditions like osteoarthritis than decades of animal research. Cancer research projects using complex 3D human cell cultures and mathematical modeling are also proving superior to animal experiments.

In 2008, CNN Health ran the headline, "Scientist: Stem cells could end animal testing," citing the superiority of human stem cell research to animal research. Using human cell tissue to develop vaccines is also considered much safer than using animals since undetected animal viruses may jump the species barrier (think SARS). In 2007, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommended less reliance on animals in toxicology studies and more focus on in vitro methods using cells "preferably of human origin" in order to generate "more relevant data." In 2004, the prestigious British Medical Journal published an article titled "Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?" stating animal research had inherent flaws and that funding for animal research was holding back clinical research and medical innovations.

The fact is animal research doesn't carry over well to humans. For example, the arthritis drug Vioxx tested safe and even beneficial to the heart in animal tests but was pulled from the market after causing an estimated 320,000 cases of heart attacks and strokes in humans. And sometimes it goes the other way. For example, penicillin was discovered in 1929 but wasn't used until 1939 because its failure to cure infected rabbits had convinced researchers it was worthless. There are hundreds of similar examples.

So why does our government continue doling out grants (your tax dollars) for outdated animal research? The Medical Research Modernization Committee has suggested part of the problem is resistance to change; especially in the way grants are awarded. Funding for innovative ideas is difficult because grants are generally awarded based on a history of publications and researcher experience. If a researcher has experience in animal research instead of human cells or stem cells, then animal research gets funded. And in the "publish or perish" world of academic science researchers can take an already existing animal study and change a small variable or the species being used in order to obtain "new" or "interesting" findings relatively quickly to obtain more grant money.

So UNC's expansion of its animal research and storage facilities gives us the following: outdated medical research; needless animal suffering (ever wonder why this rarely gets mentioned?); air pollution from incinerators used to burn the dead bodies of hundreds of animals; and potential harm to our environment and possibly humans due to the spraying of the treated (but not treated to drinking level safety) animal research waste water into our forests.

So what can you do? When UNC wants something they unfairly bypass our local government officials and go straight to the legislators in Raleigh. And this means citizens need to do the same. We can also push officials at the national level to stop using our tax dollars to fund outdated things and to embrace new technology and advancements -- in energy and medical research.

To see what happens to animals in laboratories, visit our video library and image gallery for cats, dogs, mice, primates, rats, rabbits.

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