“We all benefit” from animal experimentation according to the NIH – but that’s just one side of the story

July 2013
Dr. Pam Osenkowski, Director of Science Programs

I recently came across the “Animals in Research” website, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) educational site geared toward informing both students and the general public about the use of animals in science.  This website has the potential to reach a vast audience of readers and educate them on this complex issue.  I was interested to see how the message of animal use in science would be conveyed to the public.  Would the website report on this topic in an unbiased and factual manner or spin the use of animals in science in a completely positive light? When I read the website’s slogan, “Animals in Research: We all benefit,” I had my answer.

When browsing the website, I read about how mice helped combat childhood leukemia and how sleepy Doberman puppies are used by scientists to study narcolepsy.  I read their “Amazing Facts” including one claim that mentioned how useful armadillos are for leprosy research. 

I am aware of other “Amazing Facts” about the use of animals in research that are not included in this NIH website of which the general public should also be informed: there are well-documented problems and limitations with animal models.  Advancements in science and our understanding of the differences between species continue to provide explanations for why data collected from animal models has failed to accurately extrapolate to humans.  The general public deserves the full truth about the use of animals in science, flaws included, so they better understand the need for researchers to develop more human-relevant models to improve human health and well being.   

Top leaders in the NIH, the very organization which has made this educational website available, have openly discussed flaws with animal models:

“The use of animal models for therapeutic development and target validation is time consuming, costly, and may not accurately predict efficacy in humans.”
-Dr. Francis Collins, Science Translational Medicine, “Reengineering Translational Science: The Time is Right,” 2011

“With earlier and more rigorous target validation in human tissues, it may be justifiable to skip the animal model of assessment of efficacy altogether.”
-Dr. Francis Collins, Science Translational Medicine, “Reengineering Translational Science: The Time is Right,” 2011

“We have moved away from studying human disease in humans,” he lamented. “We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included.” With the ability to knock in or knock out any gene in a mouse—which “can’t sue us,” Zerhouni quipped—researchers have over-relied on animal data. “The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem…We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”
-Former NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, Scientific Review Management Board meeting, June 2013

Other respected scientists are openly sharing their concerns on this issue as well:

“I think the important point for the audience is that there's a real major problem right now in the pharmaceutical industry, which is that the animal models really don't work.” 
-Dr. Don Ingber, Director of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, during an NPR interview discussing “organ-on-a-chip” and how this in vitro tool could replace animal models for drug testing

“It all boils down to two issues: 1) humans are not rats and 2) despite our incredible similarities to one another, actually, those tiny differences between you and I have huge impacts with how we metabolize drugs and how those drugs impact us.”
-Dr. Nina Tandon of Columbia University‘s Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, during a TED Talk on tissue engineering and personalized medicine

“The bottom line is that we can’t recommend any animal model, and it’s not about refining those we have.”
-Dr. Thomas Hartung, Professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Nature Medicine, February 2013

“Animal experiments … are very ineffective in predicting human outcomes.  There are just too many differences across species, between humans and other animals that really make extrapolation from other animals to humans highly tenuous at best.”
-Dr. Aysha Akhtar, double Board-certified neurologist and public health specialist, in a 2013 Huffington Post interview

The government has a responsibility to accurately explain the complete picture of animal research to the general public, as well as to students who may become future scientists.  If students learn about the limitations of animal models early in their lives, they may be driven to find better solutions to today’s scientific questions.

Animal welfare advocates, scientists, and the general public alike share a common interest in improving human health and well being.  However, for this to be accomplished, science is showing us that more human relevant models need to be developed. The general public deserves to be educated about this important issue.  Simply brainwashing the public with the slogan “Animals in Research: We All Benefit” is not the solution.

Take Action! Contact the Office of Science Education and Scientific Affairs and tell them that the general public deserves to learn the full story of animals in research, including well known limitations and problems with animal models on the “Animals in Research” website.
 
 
53 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 1552
Chicago, IL 60604
(800) 888-NAVS or (312) 427-6065
Fax: (312) 427-6524
navs@navs.org
© 2013 National Anti-Vivisection Society is a
501(c)3 non-profit organization
53 West Jackson Blvd., Suite 1552
Chicago, IL 60604
(800) 888-NAVS or (312) 427-6065
Fax: (312) 427-6524
navs@navs.org
© 2013 National Anti-Vivisection Society is a
501(c)3 non-profit organization