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Opinion

Wales must set an example and ban animal experiments

17 Nov 2023 4 minute read
Photo by 9brandon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Deborah Davies

Each year inside British laboratories, around 3 million animals are experimented on. Every 8 seconds, one animal dies (source: Animal Aid). The latest available figures show approximately 39,000 ‘procedures’ took place in Wales in 2022.

You may be surprised to learn that the vast majority of animal procedures do not result in breakthroughs or even advances in human medicine. Such experimentation is not the ‘necessary evil’ some would have us believe. For instance, more than 90% of drugs showing promise in animal toxicity tests turn out to be either ineffective or harmful to humans.

Tossing a coin would provide a better indication of a drug’s efficacy, with at least a 50% chance of accuracy. Some drugs prescribed after animal testing have even proven fatal to humans, resulting in their removal from the UK market.

The same is true for medical research. Millions of animals are sacrificed with very little human benefit achieved. For example, after many decades of experimentation, cancer can be cured in mice but not humans. In which other domain would a model with such a high failure rate continue to be used?

The difficulty in translating outcomes from animals to humans can be explained by the fact that, despite similar biology, animals and humans react differently at a molecular and cellular level. In fact, different species respond uniquely too.

For instance, paracetamol (in the right dosage) is safe for humans and dogs but toxic to cats. This lack of predictive value has been understood and documented for over a century, yet experimental animal use continues. Such experiments, apart from causing unnecessary animal suffering, are time-consuming, costly, and prevent progress that could result from more human-relevant methods.

Reluctance

There are many reasons for the scientific community’s reluctance to move away from animal models, but a lack of alternative methodologies is not one. An array of human-specific technologies is available and continues to be developed globally by innovative scientists and researchers, supported, and funded by organizations like Animal Free Research UK (formerly Dr Hadwen Trust).

Award-winning, game-changing innovations like organ-on-a-chip, advanced imaging, and computational modelling allow research on human biology, unhindered by genetic differences that complicate translating animal results to humans. Such human-focused methods succeed at exceptionally high rates, unlike animal research.

Yet funding, much of it public (from taxes), continues to be poured into old, failed animal methods. Universities (where 50% of UK animal experiments occur) persist in training scientists using outdated, ineffective research methods, perpetuating a cruel, flawed model that blocks rather than advances human medicine.

We must ensure the next generation of researchers sees animal-free technologies as the gold standard. (For more information, visit Animal Aid’s Universities Challenged site.)

Thankfully, opposition to the status quo grows among those not entrenched in the tradition, culture, and groupthink of vivisectionists who see animal-free innovations as threats. A UK parliamentary motion, EDM 278, sponsored by 6 MPs (2 Welsh) calls for a public scientific hearing to examine the evidence and decide if animal experiments remain relevant and viable in the 21st century.

If, like me, you feel compelled to support this motion, you can lend your backing by asking your MP to sign the EDM. You can do so easily by following an online link where an automated message will be sent on your behalf: For Life On Earth .

Given that polls show most people in Wales oppose animal testing and favour new technologies (South Wales Argus, April 2021), promoting EDM 278 offers a unique chance for the public to voice their views.

The UK law permitting ‘pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm’ to lab animals must be challenged. Here in Wales, we can set an example by contesting this outdated Act and advocating for effective, human-relevant research grounded in science, not tradition.


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Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago

I was told about 15 years ago, that the empirical dataset gained from testing on and killing billions of animals is now so large that the effects and their combinations are predictable without ever having to murder another animal ever again. I was told that the problem was how slowly legislation, and insurance changed. To be covered by law, licensing and by liability insurance, testing in a certain set of animals (including the LD50 and Draize tests) was a requirement to enable a product to proceed to the next stage. Essentially they hadn’t then, and seemingly still haven’t processed that.… Read more »

Deborah Davies
Deborah Davies
5 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Thanks for engaging. Yes there are many reasons for the reluctance of the biomedical research community to embrace human relevant methodologies in place of animal models. For anyone who would like to get a complete picture, I recommend a new publication, ‘Rat Trap’ by Pandora Pound. Also we would love to welcome people to the movement, Wales Against Animal Experiments’: https://www.facebook.com/groups/walesagainstanimalexperiments

oatmaster
oatmaster
6 months ago

There’s a misunderstanding in this article of what most animal research is. It seems to assume that it’s entirely based on giving drugs to mice and seeing what works but that’s just clinical trials stuff. Far more of it is based around fundamental mechanisms which are common across species and provide information about, for example, cancer processes in humans. Nobody *wants* to be experimenting on mice, but they’re all that’s realistically available if people want, say, cancer research to proceed. Alternatives are being developed but there’s very little that can replace all animal work yet. Of course, there’s an argument… Read more »

oatmaster
oatmaster
6 months ago
Reply to  oatmaster

Just to follow up a little more, there’s also a bit of a fixation on a ‘cure’ for disease. To give an example, prostate cancer. Basically everyone with a prostate will get prostate cancer if they live long enough. The rate in 90-year-olds is something like 98%. In this case the research isn’t really looking for a cure. What it’s looking for is a way to reliably tell which cancers will sit and do hardly anything for 30 years and which will be fatal in 18 months. Study into mouse models of prostate cancer helps to work out what chemical… Read more »

Deborah Davies
Deborah Davies
5 months ago
Reply to  oatmaster

Thanks for engaging. The arguments put forward in the opinion piece were obviously just scratching the surface of the issue. Both toxicity testing and animal research linked to disease prevention were mentioned. There is evidence documented over many decades of the failure of animal models to translate to human outcomes in both these fields. For anyone who would like to get a complete picture, I recommend a new publication, ‘Rat Trap’ by Pandora Pound. Also we would love to welcome people to the movement, Wales Against Animal Experiments’: https://www.facebook.com/groups/walesagainstanimalexperiments

Deborah Davies
Deborah Davies
5 months ago

Further to publication of this article, ‘Wales Against Animal Experiments’ has been launched. The goal of the movement is to harness people power to demand effective human-relevant research in place of cruel animal methods.

We plan to share info, raise awareness and support existing organizations in the UK already actively fighting against vivisection. We will also be engaging with Senedd Members and local politicians in an effort to make the people’s voice heard.
We hope you will want to support this movement, and if so, please join and share this group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/walesagainstanimalexperiments/ (We will be extending to other social media platforms.)

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