Birmingham Leads in Medical Test Methods; Animal Experiments Are on the Rise but According to Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, It Doesn't Have to Be That Way. Here She Explains Why It's Time to Follow Birmingham's Lead

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Byline: Jan Creamer

The number of animal experiments in the UK has risen to the highest level for almost a decade. According to figures released this month by the Government almost three million experiments were performed on animals last year and that figure is steadily rising.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) says it is a disgrace that with more non-animal methods available to scientists than ever before the UK has become the biggest user of laboratory animals in Europe.

Laboratory animals suffer at every stage of their lives' the law allows the infliction of pain and suffering on animals that would, in other circumstances, be illegal. They live in unnatural, factory farm-type conditions where overbreeding, fighting injuries and overcrowding is rife. They can be burnt, blinded, scalded, mutilated, poisoned to death or deliberately given disease.

Experiments in the UK exposed by the NAVS have included: Rabbits being used to test breast implants - they were killed after suffering chronic inflammation and haemorrhag-ing' monkeys suffering diarrhoea, swollen penises and scrota, body tremors, low heart rates and abdominal and umbilical hernias after being given an asthma drug - this was a 'moderate' pain level test.

Rats were forced to breathe paint in a 'non-lethal' test, but within three hours half of the animals had already choked to death so the test was stopped.

Yet the fundamental flaw of animal research is that each species responds differently to substances, making animal tests unreliable as a way to predict effects in humans.

The test drug TGN1412 left human volunteers critically ill and demonstrates just how misleading animal test data can be. The drug had been given in doses 500 times stronger to monkeys without serious adverse effects. But it turned a fit and healthy young man into what was described as the 'elephant man'. However it is not uncommon for drugs to fail in human trials after animal tests - around a third fail in the first human trials.

The NAVS has argued that the TGN1412 disaster could have been averted if a new technique called microdosing had been used' this is where ultra-low doses of a drug are given to humans. Accelerator Mass Spec-trometry (AMS) is a tool of unprecedented sensitivity, which can analyse these ultra-low doses. This replaces animals, avoids the problem of species differences, and is safer for humans. Yet the UK has only one AMS unit.

There are many other examples of species differences:

Morphine calms people and rats, but causes excitement in cats and mice.

Aspirin causes birth defects in cats and dogs, but not in people.

Penicillin is a useful antibiotic for people but it kills guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs can only breathe through their noses.

The breast cancer drug tamoxifen was designed as an oral contraceptive. It is in rats, but in women it has the opposite effect. It is now used in the treatment of breast cancer, despite causing cancer in rats in some studies. …