Animals in Laboratories: the real story

by Anne Birthistle |

They say that if animals believed in the Devil, he would look like Man.

For animals that are caught up in the laboratory sciences, this must hold especially true.  Whether undergoing repeated poisonings in long-term toxicity testing, being scalded, crushed or otherwise mutilated in effort to simulate human injury or disease, or suffering psychological torture (such as the notorious Maternal Deprivation experiments, wherein puppies or baby primates are reared in isolation chambers and subjected to various terrors), the extent of the animal suffering caused by white-coated individuals is untellable.

In North America animal care committes are meant to oversee the animals used in research, but compliance is voluntary and even when in place the animals are hardly afforded any protection. In Canada, for example, the Canadian Council on Animal Care has specific guidelines for allowable scientific protocols. These includes Category of Invasiveness = E, which is defined as “Experiments causing severe pain near, at, or ABOVE the pain tolerance threshold of unanesthetized, conscious animals”.  In the last reporting year, 2006, over 100,00 animals in Canadian labs were made to undergo experimentation at this level.

There are literally thousands of forward-looking scientists and other health-care professionals throughout the world who argue that the use of animals in science is not productive to the discovery of cures for human maladies.  Irwin J. Bross, former head of research design and analysis at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute, famously reported that scientists have been going down blind alleys for over two centuries now in effort to cure cancer.  “From a scientific standpoint, what are called animal model systems in cancer research have been a total failure….There is no animal model system which resembles the human cancer process.” Dr. Bross also notes: “Not a single important new drug for the treatment of human cancer was first detected from an animal system.  All of the drugs in wide current clinical use were placed in animal model systems only after clinical clues to their chemotherapeutic possibilities had already been found. Thus, the tens of millions of animals killed in the mass screening for new cancer drugs died in vain.”

Similarly, the cure for childhood leukemia came about despite the lab research, when clinicians returned to the traditional Vinca alkoids and ignored the animal-based scientific data which had stymied their progress

In Europe, and slowly but surely in the U.S., it is being realized that toxicity testing works better without the use of animals.  We can test up to 2500 chemicals, at 15 different exposure levels, in one afternoon, through the alternative approach of mixing chemicals with human cells, and then using robotic machinery to detect in only minutes cell death or other signs of harm – a process which formerly took 30 years to do. Why persist in forcing animals to ingest or absorb massive doses of toxic, caustic or lethal substances when such exciting and infinitely more reliable alternatives exist?

We have come late to the acknowledgement that for all its benefits, science has significantly harmed our environment, our human health, the very food we eat and the products we use. It needs now to be understood that just because we’ve always done it doesn’t mean that we should continue to use animals in research.  It’s time we made science make sense.

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