Clinical Trials: Animal Testing: Progress or Pain?
ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Each year in the name of medical progress, scientists experiment with 100 million mice, rats, monkeys, fish and dogs. They expose the animals to medicines and therapies that could become the next cancer killer or depression fighter, but are the tests a move forward or backward?
Veterinarian John D. Young, V.M.D., M.S., runs the research labs at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He opened the doors to show his side of animal research.
"Without the use of animals, there's no way to prove safety," Dr. Young told Ivanhoe.
He says the rats in the lab are long-term survivors of brain cancer -- the same cancer that will kill some of the young patients on the pediatric oncology floor at his hospital.
"The prospect of that wipes away all doubt in my mind of what I'm doing is not only worthwhile, but a very noble use of animals," Dr. Young explained.
Successful vaccinations, MRI, CT scans and antibiotics were all developed as a result of animal testing.
"Results generated in pigs are now translating to the use of a person's own stem cells to repair their heart after a heart attack," Dr. Young pointed out.
With progress comes controversy. A home video taken at a leading university medical center alleges lab animals are suffering cruelty and neglect.
"It was just horrible," Catherine Dell'Orto, D.V.M., a veterinarian at Sabino Veterinary Care in
Tucson, Ariz., described to Ivanhoe. "It was horrific."
Dr. Dell'Orto was responsible for the care of the animals.
"The baboons had their eyes taken out and they were induced in a stroke," she said.
Dr. Dell'Orto complained to her supervisors and the USDA. When she failed to get their attention, she contacted PETA.
"Any kind of drug trial using an animal, basically you're slowly poisoning the animal to death," Alka Chandna, Ph.D., a laboratory oversight specialist at PETA, told Ivanhoe.
An internal investigation found inadequate veterinary care of some of the animals used, and the university implemented reforms based on some of the complaints.
"I left, but for years I would have nightmares about what I saw," Dr. Dell'Orto said.
As the debate rages on, a new question comes up: Are animals the best option?
"Of all drugs that test safe and effective in animals and laboratories, 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans," Dr. Chandna explained.
Alan Goldberg, Ph.D., director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., said he believes we need to replace, reduce and refine the process of animal testing.
"It's not that we are going to just stop animal testing," he explained. "You can eliminate specific pieces of it."
Dr. Goldberg believes high-tech alternatives will be the answer. The use of high-speed, high-power computer models, in vitro testing and new microchips are being developed that mimic the functions and responses of different organs.
"This is the beginning of the end of animal testing," Dr. Goldberg said.
That may be the case in the United States, but hundreds of tests and millions of dollars are sent overseas, outsourced to China because of costly U.S. regulations and the increase of threats against companies that use animals for research.
"We know that enforcement is near nonexistent in China," Dr. Chandna said.
Animal testing proves an ethical and scientific challenge for researchers and animal lovers around the globe.
"I wonder, are we really advancing ourselves as a culture by doing this?" Dr. Dell'Orto asked.
"I would submit that if you would disallow the use of animals in medical research, medical progress wouldn't slow," Dr. Young said. "It would stop and it would reverse."
A hard decision for anyone: ranking animals' pain against the possibility of saving lives.
Regulations on animal testing have been tightened in recent years. A Tufts University study found in 1970 50 million animals in the United States were used for testing. Today that number is down to about 14 million.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Americans for Medical Progress
Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Research Defence Society