NAVS has long presented compelling evidence and arguments that the cures for human diseases will not be found in animals. Most drugs that show promise in animal studies often fail when they are tested in people. A recent story on NPR described how animal models came to be, and how continued reliance on them will lead science astray.
When scientists first began conducting animal experiments over a century ago, they did not view the animals as stand-ins for people. That notion changed over time, however, particularly when those selling animals to scientists pitched them as human substitutes that could be used to study virtually anything—never mind the vast evolutionary differences between species that make us so unique.
Over the subsequent years, entire scientific communities developed, based on the use of lab animals. Today, tremendous effort is geared towards learning how to raise lab animals, keep them healthy and develop specialized equipment to facilitate experiments using them. All of this momentum, unfortunately, ignores the striking evidence that experiments with animal models do not translate to people. And though it remains difficult to challenge the status quo, there are signs that this may be changing.
Dr. Gregory Petsko, professor of neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College, believes that heavy reliance on animal models has been counterproductive to scientists in his field. While he doesn’t fault colleagues for having used animal models in the past, he does recognize that “at some point you have to cut your losses. You have to say, ‘OK, this took us as far as it could take us, quite some time ago.’” Petsko believes that using human-relevant models, such as human cells, may help scientists better understand the diseases they are studying.
Dr. Todd Preuss, an anthropologist at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University, agrees, noting, “Scientists need to break out of a culture that is hampering progress. That’s tough to do right now…but the upside could benefit us all, in the form of a better understanding of disease, and effective new drugs.”
As the country faces cuts in science funding, perhaps media attention such as the recent NPR feature will reiterate the importance of refocusing monetary resources on models that will pay much higher dividends in terms of progress in human health—models with human relevance. We can’t continue to ignore the evidence that animals are inherently flawed as human models any longer.
Source: “Drugs That Work In Mice Often Fail When Tried In People,” NPR, April 10, 2017