Tag Archives: animal experiments

Why the NFL needs to have its head examined

Recently, PBS’s Frontline aired a disturbing documentary chronicling the National Football League’s history of downplaying and distorting the evidence that football-related head injuries cause long-term brain damage. The film included footage from a 2009 Congressional hearing in which lawmakers compared the NFL’s approach to the problem to Big Tobacco’s decades of sham science and lies about the link between smoking and disease. The analogy is spot on.

The NFL borrowed a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook by choosing to dump millions of dollars into experiments on animals that won’t ever help humans, but will allow dangerous activity to continue while giving the public the illusion that they’re being protected.

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Why animal experimentation doesn’t work. Reason 3: Animals aren’t little humans

Your child, my father, and all of our loved ones who may be suffering from illnesses are not rats or dogs or monkeys. So why do animal experimenters keep treating them as though they are?

Suppose you are an experimenter and are determining if methylprednisolone, a steroid, will help humans with spinal cord injury. After crushing the spinal cords of many different animals, you test the drug on them. My colleagues and I looked at the published studies (62 in total) and here are the results broken down by species [1]:

  • In Cats: the drug was mostly effective
  • Dogs: mostly effective
  • Rats: mostly ineffective
  • Mice: always ineffective
  • Monkeys: effective (1 experiment)
  • Sheep: ineffective (1 experiment)
  • Rabbits: results were split down the middle

Based on these results, can you determine if methylprednisolone will help humans with spinal cord injury?

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Why animal experimentation doesn’t work — Reason 2: Animals don’t get human diseases

My father suffers from diabetic peripheral neuropathy. His diabetes led to nerve damage that causes him severe, constant pain. I want the best medical treatments possible for him and, as a neurologist, I am always on the lookout for good, new drugs, but none of them have effectively slowed down his diabetes and nerve damage. As long as experimenters continue to try to recreate diabetes in animals, instead of studying human diabetes, I have little hope that my father’s pain will end.

Although numerous drugs are available, diabetes remains among the top killers in the U.S. and worldwide. The newest drugs are generally no more effective than the older drugs or are much more harmful. Just recently, two new diabetic drugs, Onglyza and aleglitazar, failed clinical trials after testing in animals.

At first glance, it might seem that if we can recreate diabetes in dogs or mice, we would better understand diabetes. But here’s the problem: we end up better understanding animal diabetes– in dogs and mice– but not necessarily human diabetes.

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Why animal experimentation doesn’t work — Reason 1: Stressed animals yield poor data

Imagine you are a monkey in a laboratory and a person dressed in a white coat walks into the room with a catching net. How do you think you would react? You would probably not be surprised to learn that monkeys in this situation immediately show significant distress.

What may surprise you, however, is that the distress that animals in laboratories experience is one of the main reasons why animal experimentation doesn’t work.

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Want to improve medical research? Cut out the animals!

Recently, former NIH Director, Elias Zerhouni (director from 2002-2008), returned to address NIH and made a startling comment:

“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.”

“Evidence-based medicine” is a term used throughout medical practice. Basically, we rely on evidence to support virtually every practice in medicine and medical research — except one. Despite the fact that millions of animals are used in experiments each year, we have rarely actually scrutinized the data on animal experiments to determine how relevant they are for human diseases and for improving our lives.

Fortunately that’s changing. More scientists are now taking a hard look at this question. What the evidence is showing is that we can get much better answers about human health and diseases and develop more effective therapies if we use human-based tests instead of animal experiments.

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NASA’s wrong stuff

I am an absolute space geek. The only time I ever skipped high school was to hear a panel of astronauts give a talk about space exploration. I owned a topographical map of Mars before it was ever considered cool (it IS considered cool, by the way). And this past July I was one of the lucky few that joined the team of Apollo 11 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their moon landing. I have always been a firm supporter of NASA and its space exploration program; it is truly the stuff of dreams (including mine). Yet, for the first time, I am finding myself extremely disappointed by NASA’s efforts to pursue the final frontier. During a time when NASA’s budget is especially tenuous and after the Obama administration essentially put the agency’s human spaceflight plans on hold, I am bewildered by NASA’s plan to squander nearly $2 million in taxpayer money on radiation experiments on monkeys.

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