New research on animal testing turns on its head the logic that has made mice the most popular species for studying drugs developed to treat human diseases.
Mouse studies have been totally misleading when it comes to understanding at least three major human killers — sepsis, burns and trauma — a paper published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals.
“As a result, years and billions of dollars have been wasted following false leads,” New York Times reporter Gina Kolata wrote this week. She added the paper also “helps explain why every one of nearly 150 drugs tested at huge expense in patients with sepsis has failed. The drug tests all were based on studies in mice. And mice, it turns out, can have something that looks like sepsis in humans, but is very different from the condition in humans.”
Cynics may say, “So what? What does it matter if we destroy a bunch of mice, seen as pests by many humans?”
I could go on for hours answering that question. But here’s the short answer: It’s not just mice that are being bred and uselessly tortured for the sole purpose of developing cancer or some other human plague. Test animals spend their lives in cramped, miserable conditions, are subjected to painful treatments and then casually slaughtered.
If you’re not bothered by the idea of drug tests on mice, what about tests on monkeys? Some monkeys — chimpanzees, in particular — are our closest genetic relatives. They, too, live horrific lives as test animals.
Why is the medical industry wasting billions of scarce research dollars testing subjects that produce fallible results?
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has led the campaign against animal testing for many years. In an opinion piece on its website, the group’s president, Dr. Neal Barnard, wrote:
“Part of the reason for animal testing is that manufacturers are not sure what else to do. Decades-old FDA regulations require animal tests, even when they have no applicability for the drug in question. From the manufacturer’s standpoint, it doesn’t matter if a rat’s heart or liver reacts differently from those of humans. Animal testing is the only path to FDA approval.
“Meanwhile, non-animal alternatives are mired in a seemingly endless process of scrutiny by regulatory bodies. Non-animal tests may well be better than animal tests, but if regulators won’t accept them, manufacturers see no point in using them.”
Technology has taken us way past the point where animal tests are the only reasonable alternative. Human cells can be extracted from people with cancer or heart disease or any number of illnesses and can be tested in labs for drug reactions. Stem cells, still somewhat limited in this atavist nation of ours, are extremely useful in testing drug reactions and results.
After animal testing but before approval, new drugs must be tested on people. Doctors running drug trials are frequently besieged by people with diseases that these drugs may cure or alleviate. Patients want to get into those trials. My father died of multiple myeloma six years ago. He faced tough competition getting into two trials that prolonged his life by years.
If the FDA would approve the use of human cells in laboratories and then go straight to human trials, that would eliminate the costly and inaccurate path of testing on animals.
It really doesn’t matter whether one objects to animal testing based on morality or economics. Animal tests are a nasty legacy of the past; technology is the future. It’s time our federal government understood that and trashed wasteful and immoral animal tests.
Bonnie Erbe is the host of PBS’ “To the Contrary.” Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.