If your dog got sick and were dying, do you think you could cure him by conducting research on your healthy aunt Edna? Since it is not possible to cure a sick animal by conducting research on healthy humans, is it possible to cure a sick human by conducting research on a healthy animal?
Every species of animal has a different biochemistry. This would mean that it is impossible to conclude connections between non-human animals and human beings with absolute certainty. This would also be true in comparing one species of animal to another. It is also impossible to recreate a spontaneous disease in the lab in both animals and humans. Infectious diseases are the exception. Remember though that animals do not get human infectious diseases and we do not get theirs.
Unfortunately, most medical research is based on “the animal model of human disease”. This model maintains that it is possible to reproduce spontaneous human diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, AIDS, etc.,on healthy, non-human animals.
Diseases of all kinds are affecting an increasing number of Americans. This is in spite of decades of animal-based research that costs billions of dollars. It is estimated that by the year 2030, health care will have an annual price tag of $16 trillion – an overwhelming 32% of the projected U.S. economy. This projection causes one to ask the obvious question: If animal research works, why do “miracle cures” and “medical breakthroughs” never materialize.
Some believe we are going backwards and not forward. In 1971, President Nixon declared a “war on cancer”. Since this time billions of tax dollars have been spent infecting perfectly healthy animals with artificially-induced cancer tumors. The result has been an increase in cancer rates by 18% and cancer deaths by 7%. We’ve seen birth defects skyrocket in the last 40 years. Presently, 1 child in 7 is born with some kind of birth defect. The U.S. consistently ranks at the bottom of every health statistic, but we spend more money per capita on “health care” than any other nation in the world.
Pharmaceuticals that have been found “safe” for humans based on animal testing often cause physical damage and even death. If animal testing is a valid way of determining human reactions to drugs, why do so many serious side effects remain unknown until humans are exposed to the drug?
It is a fact that animals react differently than humans to different substances. This is also true between different animals. Aspirin kills cats and penicillin kills guinea pigs. Yet, the same guinea pigs can safely eat strychnine. Strychnine is one of the deadliest poisons for humans, but not for monkeys. Sheep are not affected by arsenic. Potassium cyanide, which is deadly to humans, is harmless to owls. This list is endless.
So what do we do about research on animals? An increasing number of doctors and scientists agree that today’s biomedical research is invalid and counterproductive. They suggest two ways to deal with human health problems. First, and foremost, we must learn how to practice prevention. An overwhelming number of diseases can be prevented by proper diet, a healthy lifestyle, and the elimination of environmental toxins. Prevention involves the patient taking responsibility for their health, the medical community educating patients, and insurance companies covering preventive care. This is by far the most intelligent choice and deserves most of our resources.
Once people get sick, the only way to gather reliable and thus useful information is to examine the patients who have the actual disease or condition. Only this vital information, obtainable through human clinical research, can lead to effective treatments and real cures. Medical research has played an important role in improving people’s lives. Advances that have been made without the use of animals are extensive. They include the isolation of the AIDS virus, the discovery of penicillin and anesthetics, the identification of blood types, the need for certain vitamins, and the development of x-rays. The identification of risk factors for heart disease—probably the most important discovery for decreasing deaths from heart attacks—was made through human population studies.
Neurological diseases are another major cause of death and disability in the U.S. Once again, animal experiments in this area have not correlated well with human disease. Of the 25 compounds “proven” effective for treating strokes in animals over the last 10 years, none have proven effective for humans. Of the 198 drugs that were tested on animals in accordance with FDA guidelines between 1976 and 1985, 51.5 percent caused reactions serious enough to result in withdrawal from the market or warranted substantial labeling changes.
Using animals in health care research also presents another problem: the risk of animal viruses infecting the human population. Some primate viruses, when transmitted to humans, can cause disease and even death. Most scientists now believe that the virus that causes AIDS is a descendent of a virus found in primates. If we practice xenotransplantation (the transplant of animal organs or tissues into humans), the risk of animal viruses entering the human population could have devastating consequences.
Biomedical research is a billion dollar industry. The majority of federal health care funds are channeled through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Approximately 80% of the NIH budget goes to actual research projects. According to the NIH, at least 40 percent of its grants currently have an animal component. While these enormous sums of money are being consumed by animal experimentation, greater emphasis on other types of research could lead to huge improvements in the health of our nation. These include human clinical and epidemiological studies, prevention initiatives, public health programs, and in vitro research.
I can’t deny that animal research hasn’t produced valuable medical breakthroughs that have changed the world. The discovery of insulin; organ, corneal, and bone marrow transplants; antibiotics for pneumonia; surgery for heart diseases; and the development of nonaddictive painkillers were all made possible through animal testing. Testing on monkeys led to the polio vaccine.
Unfortunately, disease prevention can never eliminate the need for medical research, and medical research will probably always require the use of animals. The sacrifice of any animal is unfortunate, but can be justified if that sacrifice saves human lives.
The study of human cell cultures (in vitro research) has been touted as a possible alternative to animal experimentation. In vitro experimentation does have its limits. A cell culture cannot tell us the effects a drug will have on an entire human body. It can’t help doctors develop new surgical procedures. It is also a political issue that will not be settled anytime soon. Computer-based approaches to medical research also have limitations.
There is not a person in the United States who has not somehow benefited from the results of research involving animals. I look forward to the day when medicine is so advanced that the use of animals will not be necessary, but until that day, we cannot abandon the use of animals in medical research.