Q: Why do animal experiments continue, in the face of such qualified medical opposition?

We are all aware of times when the best path for public health or the environment has been ignored in favor of industrial profit. Unfortunately the money which is made from animal experimentation has far outgrown its scientific usefulness. Since 1847 – 1878, the period when Claude Bernard first established the modern use of animal experiments, a massive financial infrastructure has arisen built on the laboratory animal model, upon which very many research centres, universities and scientists now rely. A realistic appreciation of this finance is key to understanding why experiments on animals still persist.

The Editor in Chief at the British Medical Journal made this the concluding focus of her recent Editors Choice in June 2014, How predictive and productive is animal research?  This article concluded by quoting from the paper it cited:

“If research conducted on animals continues to be unable to reasonably predict what can be expected in humans, the public’s continuing endorsement and funding of preclinical animal research seems misplaced.” Where would you place the balance of effort: investment in better animal research or a shift in funding to more clinical research?  Read the article here.

Senior scientists involved in medical research are also speaking out about this financial aspect and the pressure placed on them to blur the distinction between  ‘basic research’ which is curiosity driven and makes no claim to apply to human patients, and ‘applied research’ which is funded on the premise that it will lead to effective new treatments for human patients. Senior investigator and Director of Research of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, Dr Jim Woodgett comments on this following an article in Nature: (scroll down to 5th comment):

When we publish our studies in mouse models, we are encouraged to extrapolate to human relevance. This is almost a requirement of some funding agencies and certainly a pressure from the press in reporting research progress. When will this enter the clinic? The problem is an obvious one. If the scientific (most notably, biomedical community) does not take ownership of the problem, then we will be held to account. If we break the “contract” with the funders (a.k.a. tax payers), we will lose not only credibility but also funding...Building only on solid foundations was a principle understood by the ancient Greeks and Egyptians yet we are building castles on the equivalent of swampland. No wonder clinical translation fails so often.

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