Response (unprinted) to op-ed by Frankie Trull in LA Times
On August 18, 2008 an op-ed by Frankie Trull, president of the Foundation for Biomedical research appeared in the LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-trull18-2008aug18,0,7681668.story). I wrote the below in response but it was rejected by the LA Times which is unfortunately not unusual. Despite their protestations otherwise, the media is rarely interested in both sides when it comes to challenging the animal experimentation industry.
The debate over the use of animals in research has escalated lately due in part to the acts of terrorism committed by those opposed to such use. Society has heard the philosophical arguments for and against using animals in biomedical research but the scientific arguments have not received as much attention.
There are many ways animals can be and are being used in science in general that are viable from a scientific perspective. Dissecting animals in high school teaches the student fundamental concepts about animals and life in general. Many patients are alive today because of tissue harvested from animals such as aortic valves, insulin, and lung surfactant. Animals can be used in research to search for fundamental truths; such as the fact that the cell is the building block of life and that genes are how heritable traits are transmitted from generation to generation.
Importantly however, there are ways in which the use of animals is not scientifically viable. Animals cannot predict the response of humans to drugs or disease. I am not saying animals and humans have nothing in common in terms of disease and drug response, merely that the commonalities are insufficient to be predictive. Testing a drug on a monkey or rat will not predict what the drug will do to you. Even humans cannot reliably predict drug and disease response for other humans. Vioxx and Rezulin are but two examples. Many patients responded well to those drugs but others died.
Physicians have noticed for decades that humans do not respond identically to drugs or disease. Even identical twins do not always react the same. Because of advances in science from research, such as the Human Genome Project, we now understand that very small differences in genetic make-up or environment can lead to a drug curing you but killing your sister. Today medicine is aiming for, and in some circumstances has achieved, the goal of personalized medicine. Personalized medicine is diagnosis and treatment based of your unique genetic make-up. We are already seeing this in treatments of cancer and other diseases.
If one human cannot predict disease and drug response for another it is silly to think another species will do better. Yet this is what society is told by many in the animal-based research community. “Your dog or your child” is a frequent refrain. The fact is that using dogs or mice in research is not going to make medications safer or more effective. Using animals is not going to inform us about HIV/AIDS in humans. In order to find a vaccine or cure for AIDS we must study human tissues and humans in general. Fortunately this is being done but animal studies continue to garner the lion’s share of grant money.
Those with a vested interest in using animals as predictive models for humans also list what they claim are the past successes of using animals. These claims have been questioned and in some cases refuted by those without a financial interest in using animals. Regardless, today we want medical treatment based on our genes not our dog’s.
I condemn unconditionally terrorism such as that perpetrated in Santa Cruz recently. I also condemn wasting taxpayer money on research methods that have been proven ineffective when patients need cures. These are two separate issues and society should carefully consider them as such. Opposition to violence does not imply support to an outmoded status quo.
Ray Greek MD
President, Americans For Medical Advancement
AFMA supports some uses of animals in research but condemns uses that are not viable.
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