Animals can’t be used to predict human response
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.
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