Framing the Scientific Argument
How many times have you been prescribed a medication from your doctor and then wondered if it was really safe? Probably not that many times. Why? Because you know the drug has gone through a battery of safety tests and you probably were taught to believe that drugs and medical treatments should be tested on animals first. You would never “test” a drug or a treatment on a person before you tested it on an animal. That would not be safe.
And yet, is it really safe to rely upon results from non-human animals when dealing with human health and safety? Animals are not humans and very often react differently to drugs and medical therapies based on their individual genetic makeup.
When you think about it, you probably already knew that. You would never give your cat Acetaminophen– Acetaminophen is toxic to cats. You would never medicate your dog with Ibuprofen – Ibuprofen is toxic in dogs. You would never give your guinea pig penicillin – penicillin can kill a guinea pig. However, all these drugs are safe for most humans. We’ve all heard of drugs being withdrawn from the marketplace because they can cause severe side effects and even death in humans. And yet, they all passed through the animal testing protocols.
DNA similarity has often been used to justify animal research. We’ve all heard that chimpanzees, for example, share 99% of the same DNA as humans. Therefore, they would make good models for humans. Yet, when you think about it, that 1% difference puts the chimpanzee on one side of the glass in the zoo and you on the other! Chimpanzees are not humans – they are closely related, but they are not the same. Their genetic similarity to humans has resulted in their being used extensively for decades in HIV/AIDS research despite the simple fact chimpanzees do not contract AIDS.
Scientific research has progressed to a point where it is now being studied on the cellular and sub-cellular level – where species differentiations occur. Researchers have discovered that while animals may, in fact, share some of the same composition of DNA as humans, their genes do not always perform in the same manner as humans. Infinitesimal differences within the genes of animals and humans can lead to major differences in how humans and animals react to food, the environment, and medications.
The animal model, in the past, was all science had to predict how humans would respond. But today, with new emerging technologies, an increased understanding of how the human body works, and the on-going quest to cure human disease, the animal model has become unreliable. The future for human health and safety lies with enhanced research methodologies that focus on humans, not animals.