Experts in the wider scientific community – outside the animal-based research sector – acknowledge the lack of predictive value animal experiments have for human patients. These experts include pharmaceutical companies, who write about the failure of animal models in their drug development process often and openly in the scientific literature; the US-based National Cancer Institute, which says we have lost cures for cancer because studies in rodents have been believed;  the FDA, which states that nine out of ten new human medicines fail to pass human clinical trials, because animals cannot predict human outcomes;  and the British Medical Journal, which published its Editor’s Choice on the failure of animal models for human patients in June 2014, titled How Predictive and Productive is Animal Research?
Abandoning failure is never dependent upon what else is available
Animal models need to be abandoned immediately on medical and scientific grounds; waiting for misnamed ‘alternatives’ to be validated ignores all the medical evidence for human patients. Research funding can then be re-directed towards viable human-based research which has a track record of success.
Our senior doctor, Ray Greek MD, speaks about personalized medicine and the life saving significance gene-based medical research and systems biology holds for treating disease in individual patients:
Buy the best book on cutting edge, human biology-based medical research which is viable for human patients: ‘What Will We Do if We Don’t Experiment on Animals? Medical Research for the 21st Century’. Order here!
Watch award winning oncologist Dr. Azra Raza on how mice models are derailing the search for human treatments and cures – and why we need state-of-the-art human-based research as an urgent priority for patients:
Watch the Wyss Institute’s TED talk on personalized medicine and the potential held by funding this, instead of animal models:
There are many viable research methods providing scientists with the answers they need, in the search for treatments and cures for human disease. Here are just a few:
In vitro (test tube) research on living tissue has been instrumental for many of the great discoveries that have advanced medicine. Though human tissue has not always been employed, it could have been because it has always been in ample supply. Blood, tissues, and organ cultures are ideal test-beds.
Epidemiology is the study of populations of humans to determine factors that could account for the prevalence of the disease within a population or for their disease immunity. Combined with genetic research and other nonanimal methods enumerated here, it provides very accurate information about whole systems.
Bacteria, viruses, and fungi reveal basic cellular and genetic properties.
Autopsy and cadavers are used for clarifying disease and teaching operating techniques such as fracture fixation, spine stabilization, ligament reconstruction, and other procedures. Physical models can be made for studying the wear on joints and other physiological matters of interest.
Genetic research has elucidated many genes that are responsible for specific diseases. Physicians can now ascertain their patients’ predisposition to certain diseases, which allows them to monitor individuals with greater focus and suggest optimal nutrition, lifestyle changes, and medications.
Clinical research on patients shows how humans respond to different treatments and determines whether or not one treatment is superior to another. We can attribute our fundamental knowledge of disease and hospital care to clinical research.
Post-marketing drug surveillance (PMDS) is the reporting process whereby every effect and side effect of a new medication is reported to a monitoring agency, such as the FDA. Despite its obvious benefits, PMDS is practiced rather erratically at the present time, as reporting methods are neither easy to implement nor enforced by the government. It is an underutilized opportunity that should be further explored.
Mathematical and computer modeling is a complex research method that employs mathematics to simulate living systems and chemical reactions.
Technology is largely responsible for the high standard of care we receive today. MRI scanners, CT scanners, PET scanners, X-rays, ultrasound, blood gas analysis machines, blood chemistry analysis machines, pulmonary artery catheters, arterial catheters, microscopes, monitoring devices, lasers, anesthesia machines and monitors, operating room equipment, computer based equipment, sutures, the heart-lung machine, pacemakers, electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms, bone and joint replacements, surgical staplers, laparoscopic surgery, the artificial kidney machine, and many more are examples of technological breakthroughs.
Today we also have stem cell research, gene-based medical research such as pharmacogenetics, toxicogenomics, systems biology, and other areas to study. Another important but oft-overlooked area of study is evolutionary biology. More emphasis needs to be placed on the study of evolution, the place of evolution in disease, and the implications of evolution for disease research and treatment.
When discussing animals as surrogates for humans in drug testing and disease research, society needs ways to test and conduct research that have a high predictive value for humans. We refer to these research methods and tests as predictive modalities. To call these predictive modalities alternatives is to misuse the word.
Animal models are actually a very minor part of research. However, despite not allowing scientists to predict human response, they receive the lion’s share of the research funding. (Read more). There are two points that need to be made:
1. Society does not need new research methods it simply needs to fund the ones we already have. For example, performing research on animals is not going to solve the problem of drug resistant infections. Research in physics on the other hand might because physics offers society the chance to design nanomachines that will mechanically destroy the bacteria. Regardless of the bacteria’s genetic makeup it can be mechanically crushed or chewed up. So society needs the knowledge that would come from underfunded research areas like physics, chemistry, genetics, epidemiology, clinical research and so forth.
- 2. Society needs to make a fundamental change from animal-based research to human-based research. If it is humans we are trying to help then scientists must study diseases and drug reactions in humans. This is already being done but again funding needs to be increased to these areas. The way to accomplish both number 1 and 2 is to stop funding research that does not work, thus freeing up the money that needs to be spent on the research where future cures will come from!
1. Gura T: ‘Cancer Models: Systems for identifying new drugs are often faulty’. Science. 1997, 278 (5340): 1041-1042.
- 2. FDA Issues Advice to Make Earliest Stages Of Clinical Drug Development More Efficient. FDA, 2006 [cited March 7, 2010].
- 3. BMJ 2014; 348: g 3719 (availabe here)
- Extensive quotes, by experts working for the pharmaceutical industry, on the failure of animal models in their drug development process, available here.