In their most recent statement, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) Stop Vivisection calls for a ‘new paradigm in biomedical science.’
In a letter addressed to MEPs, Stop Vivisection makes a range of claims as to why animal research is not only unnecessary, but also hindering medical progress. These arguments are unsurprisingly based on inaccurate and misused information. EARA goes through Stop Vivisection’s most recent publicity stunt to separate fact from fiction.
Are there effective treatments for modern diseases?
Stop Vivisection says:
“In industrialized countries, with Europe and the US in the lead, the most serious diseases are rapidly increasing in incidence. Following are some examples, according to official sources (WHO, Eurostat, OECD, IARC, etc.). The incidence of cancer in the EU population – in particular breast (1) and prostate (2) cancer – appears to have doubled, for some countries, in the last decades. A doubling is also seen in diabetes (3), as well as in autism (4). And while male
fertility is getting closer to the threshold of infertility (5) (Eurostat), a major increase is also observed in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s (6). We do not currently possess effective treatments for these diseases, and if these trends should continue, the future of our species could be threatened in the coming decades.”
While Stop Vivisection claims that debilitating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, autism and male infertility are on the rise are correct, they are placing these statistics out of context by suggesting that this is due to ineffective treatments.
As the risk of cancer increases with age, it makes sense then that cancer rates are going up as well because most of us are now living longer. The same can be said for Alzheimer’s disease, as rates are increasing steadily with life expectancy.
Stop Vivisection fails to mention that more people are beating cancer now than ever before. Death rates for both breast and prostate cancer have been on the decline due to earlier diagnosis and better treatment . As Cancer Research UK points out, there has been significant medical progress, which has seen survival rates actually double in the last 40 years in the UK.
Animal research has been a crucial element to better understanding, preventing and curing cancer. David Scott from Cancer Research UK says on their blog:
“Studies using animals have underpinned virtually all the progress that has been made in understanding and treating cancer over the past century, from giving clues to causes of the disease to showing us the best ways to treat it.”
While the cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown, research on monkeys and mice has provided unprecedented information on understanding how the disease develops, paving the way for new treatments. The Alzheimer’s society supports the use of animals in research, stating on their website:
“Drugs and new treatments that many of us take for granted, from antibiotics to blood transfusions, and the current drug treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, would have been impossible to develop without research involving animals.”
There are currently 60 million people with diabetes in Europe and prevalence is set to increase among all ages. This is mostly due to the increase in unhealthy diets and physical inactivity, which has led to a greater number of overweight and obese people. Socioeconomic disadvantage is also an important determinant, as almost 80% of diabetes cases occur in low and middle income countries and higher rates of diabetes are found in the poorest members of society than in high income individuals.
It is not surprising that Stop Vivisection fails to mention the enormous contributions animal research has made to treating diabetes; the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of insulin would not have been possible without research on dogs. This medical breakthrough has made diabetes a manageable disease. Diabetes UK state on their website:
“Knowledge gained from animal research has been significant and essential in numerous diabetes breakthroughs, for example, the use of insulin and islet cell transplantation would not be available if it had not been for animal research.”
Animal research has, and continues to play a vital role in autism and infertility research, helping scientists better understand these conditions in the hope of finding effective treatment.
Are we responding to the risk of chemical substances?
It has been over ten years since the ‘Paris Appeal’ was signed by numerous scientific key players worldwide. Three key articles were agreed on:
- Article 1: Most diseases are caused by chemical pollution
- Article 2: due to this pollution, children are in great danger;
- Article 3: Continuing to pollute the environment as is the case today will have great implications on human health
The appeal led to the implementation of the European REACH regulation, which introduced control measures to market chemicals. In the last decade, there has been a significant rise in environmental health research, but Stop Vivisection dismisses this as animal models are at the heart of it.
Stop Vivisection says:
“Too bad that REACH, from its birth, was doomed to fail: all toxicity assessments were and still are, in 2015, almost exclusively based on animal toxicity tests.”
Animal research, however, has been one of the most reliable means of detecting important toxic properties of chemical substances and for estimating risks to human and environmental health.
Are animals a good model for human diseases?
Stop Vivisection Says:
“It is well demonstrated that no animal species can be a biological model for another species. This is supported by peer reviewed scientific articles and numerous relevant statistics…It should also be noted that animal testing has never formally undergone the process of “validation”, while strict validation protocols are rightly requested today for the approval of new toxicity testing methods. Despite this lack of validation, animal test data are still used as the “gold standard” for regulatory approvals of all these new methods.”
Are animals a good model for human disease? For the last few months, EARA has asked a number of researchers this very question:
“Preclinical animal research is an essential step in vaccine development, both for safety and efficacy. It is not possible to take a new experimental drug or vaccine into human testing without doing safety testing in animals first,” says Professor Helen McShane, a principle investigator at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford.
“We used mice as they’re a good model for mitochondrial disease. In fact, most researchers in the world use mice as models for various human diseases,” says Jun-Ichi Hayashi, Professor of Biological Sciences at University of Tsukuba.
Every single one reaffirmed that animals are a good preclinical model for human diseases, yet Stop Vivisection claims ‘no animal species can be a biological model for another species.
While humans and animals may look different, at a physiological and anatomic level they are remarkably similar. All mammals, including humans, have most of the same organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver that performs the same functions and are controlled by the same mechanisms e.g the blood stream and nervous system. The similarities mean that nearly 90% of the veterinary medicines that are used to treat animals are similar to those developed to treat human patients.
Do the numbers hold up?
Among a number of statistics that are taken out of context, Stop Vivisection claims that 92% of drugs that pass animal tests do not pass clinical trials on humans. Understanding Animal Research has already debunked these commonly used statistics as they are taken out of context. Professor Robin Lovell-Badge points out that:
“The role of preclinical animal tests is to check if the drug offers any potential therapeutic value and, importantly, if it is safe enough to move to Phase 1 trials in humans. This does not even mean free of all side effects, but to learn whether a drug can safely be given to humans and at what approximate dosage.
If you want to know how truly successful animal tests are, consider that in over 30 years there has not been a single death in a Phase 1 clinical trial in the UK. The last major incident was in 2006 in the Northwick Park trials where six people suffered extreme side effects in a Phase 1 clinical trial – though it should be noted that TGN1412 was a very novel type of molecule, which was poorly understood. Considering that are normally over 200 Phase I clinical trials each year in the UK (each involving multiple people), animal testing has been exceptionally effective at keeping dangerous drugs away from people.”
Lovell-Badge also notes that although adverse drug reactions are often blamed on animal research, the evidence for safety is provided by the thousands of people who undergo clinical trials.
Can animal models be replaced by alternatives?
Stop Vivisection says:
The “animal model” used in any research purported to provide knowledge about man should be banned and promptly replaced by evidence-based technologies, both for medical and toxicological research.Many innovative methods are already available. These include, for example: organs-on-a-chip, multi-compartmental modular bioreactors [Quasi-Vivo®], integrated discrete multiple organ co-cultures [IdMOC], pharmacogenomics, toxicogenomics, advanced 3D in vitro and in silico methodologies, microarray, neuroimaging. microdosing, bioartificial organs, virtual organs, stem cells, mathematical models, and organoid culture systems
In some areas in biomedical research, the use of animal models is neither necessary nor appropriate. This is why the Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes explicitly states that animals are only ever used in research when there are no alternatives.
Scientists have developed non-animal research alternatives, such as stem cell technologies and computer models, which are useful for research. Animal research was often crucial in these developments.
Alternatives, however, are not always able to give us the complete picture of the intricacies of the human body. These methods are currently only able to complement—not replace—animal research. Speaking of Research’s post on alternatives looks at some of the reasons these methods are not yet sophisticated enough to replace animal research.
Are the tides turning?
Stop Vivisection says:
“The European Citizens’ Initiative “STOP VIVISECTION” calls for the EU to protect human health and the environment by following the scientific renewal initiated by the USA in research. It asks for a progressive but rapid change in all relevant laws and regulations that until now have relied on the use of animals as a “model “ for the human species.”
Stop Vivisection claims a growing number of scientists are questioning the validity of animal research, referencing the National Academy of Sciences’ 2007 report on Toxicity testing. While Stop Vivisection says animal models will be abandoned, the report clearly states:
Targeted testing in animals will need to continue, as it is not currently possible to sufficiently understand how chemicals are broken down in the body using tests in cells alone. These targeted tests will complement the new rapid assays and ensure the adequate evaluation of chemicals.
Stop Vivisection also state the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have committed to a ‘series of cellular toxicology five-year projects’ and suggests this represents a ‘paradigm shift’ in biomedical research. They then seem to have failed to notice AAAS’ continued support and commitment to animal research.
While research organisations are interested to reducing and refining animal research, it is disingenuous to claim they want to abandon animal research all together.
Speaking of Research has been able to list a range of leading universities and public institutions, including American Physiological Society (APS), Harvard University and National Institutes of Health (NIH), with animal research public statements.
The paradigm shift that Stop Vivisection talks about simply does not exist.
Commitment to medical progress
In response to Stop Vivisection, over 120 organisations—including notable learned societies, patient groups, Industry and leading universities— have signed statement supporting European Directive 2010/63/EU. The statement calls on the European Parliament to oppose the ‘Stop Vivisection’ initiative as repealing the Directive will damage Europe’s leading role in advancing medical progress, which human and animals hugely benefit from.
EARA calls on all organisations who want to defend science and protect medical progress to sign the statement. Organisations that wish to support the statement can add their logos by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org