Although this makes up a small proportion of animal research, it is important because it is the one research area that still has the guarded response of the public. In two recent MORI polls, those surveyed were mostly against research conducted for the sake of gathering new knowledge, testing consumer products or improving agricultural production. There was still significant support however for research that would allegedly help improve human health or prevent disease.
Animals in medical experiments are used in the following ways:
1. As "models" for human disease
2. To test the efficacy or toxicity of drugs designed for humans
3. As spare parts or production plants for humans. This includes plans to genetically modify animals as "bioreactors" to manufacture pharmaceuticals in their milk
4. For pure research to find
out more about medical processes.
The first two uses rely on extrapolating data directly from animals to humans. There have been numerous books and papers written pointing out that historically animals have been unreliable indicators for humans because their physiology and biochemistry differs in so many ways. Unfortunately there have been equally many treatises describing ways in which animal experimentation has contributed towards the study of medicine. It is difficult to escape the conclusion (which I held for a great many years) that while wasteful and misleading animal experiments certainly do go on, it would be premature to condemn all vivisection as scientifically invalid.
Lately however, a more universally applicable theoretical argument for the failure of animal models to be extrapolated to humans has been advanced, based on an application of complexity theory to the cellular mechanisms of disease.
A 1994 paper by LaFollette and Shanks points out that our assumptions about the validity of the animal model are based on the 19th century scientific paradigm of Claud Bernard. These included a belief that equal causes produce equal effects, and a distrust of the statistical and largely anecdotal nature of clinical medicine. These beliefs, the authors propose, are now outdated. Firstly, advances in statistical knowledge have put clinical medicine on a more scientific footing, so that there is less necessity for animal experimentation.
More importantly, complexity theory predicts that in complex systems such as living beings, a small difference in initial conditions can result in vastly different effects. Similarities in the genome between humans and chimpanzees for example make for a similar structure in terms of gross morphology, but at the cellular and biochemical level (where drugs and diseases operate) even the 1% difference between the genomes will manifest itself in a totally different way. Ray and Jean Greek have written two recent rigorously argued books showing how differences between humans and animals at the cellular and biochemical level invalidate the use of the animal model.
The scientific case against the third application is less clear cut, but generally it can be shown that the use of animals are unnecessary since alternative methods can usually be found. For example, many vaccines used to be cultured in animals, but can now be manufactured using alternative techniques such as using genetically modified yeast to manufacture the antigen (the part of the disease organism which stimulates the immune system). For a New Zealand example of how bioreactors are not necessary for production of pharmaceuticals, see below.
As far as the fourth application
goes the animals are not being used for their predictive value, but only
as a means of understanding general principles of biology. It is
true that such basic research on animals can lead to understanding of human
conditions in the extreme long term. Here I believe it is necessary
to argue on the basis that scientific resources are limited, and that it
is more efficient to invest in research that can have more immediate application.
Research on prevention is also generally cheaper and saves more lives than
costly vivisection research. We now know for example the factors
that lead to heart disease, and the epidemiological research that led to
this knowledge would have saved countless more lives than any experiments
using animal "models".
Examples of medical research in New Zealand
The University of Auckland are conducting "very severe suffering" experiments on mice to test the toxicity and efficacy of human anti-cancer drugs. In doing this the experimenters are hoping to make a direct extrapolation between mice and humans. This is clearly an invalid scientific approach as discussed above. The mouse model for cancer testing is notoriously unreliable at predicting effects in humans, as detailed in the links given below.
Another controversial experiment being conducted by AgResearch at Ruakura, is genetically modifying cows so they can produce drugs in their milk that can supposedly help multiple sclerosis sufferers. This general approach has been criticised by Dr. Sean Weaver and others on the basis that the drugs could be produced more cheaply using bacterial cultures, that the drug is ineffective anyway, and that AgResearch does not have sufficient experience in medical research.
Dr. Susan Schenk at Victoria University of Wellington is conducting experiments on alcoholism and addiction in rats. She is forcing rats to become addicts and using electric shocks and other unpleasant stimuli to train them or to stress them into relapse behaviour. Such experiments are particularly pointless for several reasons. Firstly, any comparisons between rat behaviour and the vastly more complex behaviour of humans must be meaningless. Secondly, there is a voluminous amount of literature available on alcoholism and drug addiction, and this could be easily supplemented by research using human addicts as volunteers. Dr. Schenk is also conducting similar experiments on the effects of ecstacy using rats, and both these experiments are discussed more fully in the links below.
Dr. Simon Malpas at the University of Auckland is conducting "severe
suffering" work on rabbits, as discussed under "vivisection
in New Zealand".
Bibliography and further resources
Zealand anti-vivisection society
This society published a book detailing the case for scientific anti-vivisectionism. The book is 10 years old, the examples given are even older and the society makes attacks on other animal rights groups in New Zealand which need to be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, the author does make several valid points, and the book does have the advantage of being totally on line.
For Medical Advancement
The homepage of Drs. Ray and Jean Greek. Contains up to date and rigorously defended arguments for the invalidity of vivisection as a scientific method. I can also recommend their two books, also discussed and reviewed on these pages.
Experimentation: the legacy of Claud Bernard
A paper by Hugh LaFollette and Niall Shanks, which appeared in International Studies in the Philosophy of Science (1994), 195-210. The paper discusses reasons why scientists still cling to the idea of the animal model, and why it is invalid.
on mice at Auckland University
The exact text of a reply from the University Animal Ethics Committee to an Official Information Act request.
the cows come home
A paper by Dr. Sean Weaver, which appeared in the July-August 2001 issue of Soil and Health. The author argues against the genetic experimentation on animal for the purpose of manufacturing multiple sclerosis drugs.
Schenk's alcohol addiction experiments
Susan Schenk's ecstasy experiments
A summary and evaluation of addiction experiments which are in progress at Victoria University of Wellington. These are based on Animal Ethics Committee applications to the Victoria University Animal Ethics Committee. If you wish to obtain a copy of these applications, please contact the chair of the Animal Ethics Committee:
John H. Miller
School of Biological Sciences
Victoria University of Wellington
P O Box 600
Direct Dail: +64 4 463 6082
Fax: +64 4 463 5331
If you state that you are making an Official Information Act Request, the University is legally obliged to send you the information. The Animal Ethics Committee applications to ask for are as follows:
2001-R1: Cocaine experiments. Repetition of
previous work (note: this protocol may no longer be current) (10 pages).
2001-R6: Ecstasy experiments (5 pages).
2001-R7: Alcoholism experiments (6 pages)
2001-R18: Further ecstasy experiments (6 pages).
Please note that the first 20 pages and first half hour of staff time should be free, but the university may charge for photocopying extra pages and for additional staff time. It may therefore be desirable for several people to request one application each to avoid being charged.
Malpas' rabbit experiments
Descriptions and evaluation of these experiments.