The Animal Research Wars

By Conn, P. Michael; Parker, James V. | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Animal Research Wars


Conn, P. Michael, Parker, James V., Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


The article in the last issue, "Animals and Medicine: Do Animal Experiments Predict Human Responses?' teeter-totters between faulty logic and one-sided referencing. Either way it is neither a fair nor balanced critique of animals in research. Its central thesis, "We will argue that there is not strong scientific evidence to support the use of animals as predictive models in drug testing and disease research," is buoyed up by anecdotal instances in which animal studies were flawed in moving drag research forward.

To use similar logic: X-rays are no good for diagnosing allergies and antibiotics can't mend broken bones, so we should discard those from hospitals. The fact is that animal studies may not be perfect predictors--who but the authors claim that they are?--but when used with clinical studies, epidemiological studies, and in vitro studies they have contributed to virtually every major advance in medicine and surgical technique in modern times. When used carelessly or in inexperienced hands, they operate like any tool--poorly.

The authors have simply overlooked the classic study (Olson, Harry, et al., 2000. "Concordance of the Toxicity of Pharmaceuticals in Humans and in Animals." Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology 32, 56-67) that summarizes the results from 12 international pharmaceutical companies on the predictivity of animal tests in human toxicity. While the study is not perfect, the overall conclusion from 150 compounds and 221 human toxicity events was that animal testing has significant predictive power to detect most--but not all--areas of human toxicity.

Animal studies are complex and expensive--if they could be eliminated from the tool box of medical researchers without compromising medical advances, we would not be using them. Let's face it: even humans are not perfect models for other humans. Anyone watching the recent news will know that drug trials for cough medicine in adults failed to provide accurate data for children. The drug industry has known for years that the gender, age or ethnic background of test subjects may result in data reliable only for that demographic. The FDA normally requires data from more than one species in preclinical toxicology and in carcinogenicity studies. The NIH recognize that differences exist between human men and women, requiting steps to assure representation in studies. Skilled investigators know that understanding the differences, as well as the similarities are important.

Among the authors of the Skeptic article, Ray and Jean Greek are founders--and Shank serves as an officer--of a group with the clear agenda of opposing the use of animals in testing the efficacy and safety of drugs and treatments. …

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