An­i­mals can’t be used to pre­dict hu­man re­sponse

Bristol Post - - OPINION -

Many of us re­luc­tantly con­cede that med­i­cal ex­per­i­ments on an­i­mals are a nec­es­sary evil in the fight to find cures for hu­man dis­eases. But, as Bris­tol Uni­ver­sity again de­fends its an­i­mal re­search, Dr Ray Greek ar­gues that there is no sci­en­tific ba­sis for it.

THE use of an­i­mals in med­i­cal re­search is sur­rounded by eth­i­cal con­tro­versy.

This was demon­strated last week when the Uni­ver­sity of Bris­tol was forced to de­fend it­self against crit­i­cism from an­i­mal rights groups of its “shame­ful” an­i­mal ex­per­i­ments.

This ar­gu­ment is re­peated up and down the coun­try and it asks us to con- sider the pros and cons of us­ing an­i­mals.

But what is as­sumed by the so-called an­i­mal model com­mu­nity and its sup­port­ers is that the re­sults seen in an­i­mals, from study­ing a drug or dis­ease, have pre­dic­tive value for hu­mans.

What is not ex­plored is where did this no­tion come from in the first place and is it true?

Oddly, it came from a pre-Dar­winian un­der­stand­ing of life on earth.

An­i­mal mod­ellers of the 1800s re­jected Dar­win’s idea of evo­lu­tion in favour of the view that all an­i­mals were cre­ated by God us­ing the same tem­plate. They were cre­ation­ists. If they dis­cov­ered how a dis­ease af­fected an an­i­mal, they could then trans­fer that knowl­edge di­rectly to hu­mans.

This might seem pe­cu­liar to­day but the an­i­mal mod­ellers had some sup­port for their po­si­tion back then. Com­par­a­tively lit­tle was known about the hu­man body so they did, in fact, learn things from study­ing other mam­mals and even other ver­te­brates. For ex­am­ple, the ma­jor or­gans have es­sen­tially the same func­tions across species lines.

How­ever, around the time Dar­win pub­lished his the­o­ries of evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy in On The Ori­gin Of Species, the an­i­mal model com­mu­nity be­gan to no­tice prob­lems.

Some an­i­mals re­sponded very dif­fer­ently to drugs and dis­ease than hu­mans. Had the mod­ellers been more open-minded they would have im­me­di­ately un­der­stood why this was the case – evo­lu­tion changed species so they dif­fered from each other in im­por­tant ways.

I will ex­plain this us­ing more cur­rent sci­en­tific knowl­edge.

Cur­rently, we know that an­i­mals and hu­mans are ex­am­ples of com­plex sys­tems as op­posed to sim­ple sys­tems. Sim­ple sys­tems are in­tu­itive and re­spond in a pre­dictable way to a dis­tur­bance. Com­plex sys­tems are very de­pen­dent on ini­tial con­di­tions and re­spond very dif­fer­ently be­cause of very small changes in those ini­tial con­di­tions.

Th­ese re­sponses are non­lin­ear, mean­ing that a small change might re­sult in a very large dif­fer­ence from the pre­vi­ous re­sponse of an an­ces­tor species to a dis­tur­bance, or a large change might re­sult in no change in the re­sponse at all.

An­i­mal mod­ellers, of the 1800s and to­day, treat an­i­mals and hu­mans like they are sim­ple sys­tems. This ex­plains why ap­prox­i­mately 90 per cent of drugs that pass an­i­mal test­ing fail in hu­man clin­i­cal tri­als.

The ini­tial con­di­tions of an­i­mals and hu­mans are their genomes. This is what evo­lu­tion uses to pro­duce in­di­vid­u­als who are more fit for their en­vi­ron­ment. Evo­lu­tion makes small and not so small changes to the ini­tial con­di­tions of or­gan­isms and this re­sults in new species. Be­cause re­sponses to drugs and dis­ease are based on the ge­netic makeup of the in­di­vid­ual, it should come as no sur­prise that species, and even in­di­vid­u­als of the same species, re­spond dif­fer­ently to drugs and dis­ease.

To make this point more strongly, con­sider that even iden­ti­cal twins some­times re­spond very dif­fer­ently to drugs and dis­ease. One twin will suf­fer from a dis­ease while the other, de­spite be­ing raised in the same en­vi­ron­ment, will not. Evo­lu­tion and ge­net­ics ex­plain why this hap­pens. Given that it is not pos­si­ble to make an an­i­mal model that will re­sem­ble a hu­man more than iden­ti­cal twins re­sem­ble each other, it will never be pos­si­ble to use an­i­mals to pre­dict hu­man re­sponse to drugs and dis­ease.

And yet this claim is why an­i­mal mod­els are still used.

There are myr­iad ex­am­ples of an­i­mal mod­ellers claim­ing that with­out us­ing an­i­mals, so­ci­ety will not have safe drugs and pa­tients will con­tinue to die from dis­eases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. This is sim­ply false.

More­over, there are bet­ter re­search and test­ing meth­ods which are not be­ing used be­cause of the power of the vested in­ter­est groups which profit from an­i­mal modelling. Not only are an­i­mals suf­fer­ing need­lessly, but so­ci­ety is be­ing de­prived of cures be­cause of the use of an­i­mals in drug de­vel­op­ment and dis­ease re­search.

The sci­ence-based cam­paign group For Life On Earth is call­ing for a de­bate re­gard­ing the sci­ence of us­ing an­i­mal mod­els. Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment have tabled Par­lia­men­tary Early Day Mo­tions (EDMs) call­ing for such a de­bate, which will be judged by a panel of in­de­pen­dent ex­perts from the rel­e­vant fields of sci­ence.

The EDMs are sup­ported by over 100 MPs. I will be rep­re­sent­ing the po­si­tion that an­i­mals have no pre­dic­tive value for hu­mans and that an­i­mal test­ing should be aban­doned as a failed model.

This de­bate is vi­tal to prove to so­ci­ety at large, and the Govern­ment in par­tic­u­lar, that the fund­ing of the sci­en­tif­i­cally fu­tile an­i­mal modelling must stop. The govern­ment must con­form to the de­ci­sion of the sci­ence ex­perts and only fund sci­en­tif­i­cally vi­able re­search.

Pa­tients are dy­ing be­cause of vested-in­ter­est groups.

Pho­to­graph: K9 Mag­a­zine

Ac­tors Ricky Ger­vais and Peter Egan with the Daily Mir­ror’s ‘In­spi­ra­tional An­i­mal of the Year’ - res­cued ex-lab­o­ra­tory dog Scar­lett Bea­gle. The celebri­ties have joined the call from cam­paign group For Life On Earth for a rig­or­ous pub­lic sci­en­tific hear­ing to stop what they de­scribe as ‘the cruel and now-proven false sci­ence of an­i­mal

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