There’s an infection called Hand-foot-and-mouth disease, which is common among young children and is caused by a virus. Lately, there seems to be another illness, Foot-in-mouth disease, that’s been going viral, at least socially. The main difference between these diseases is that the latter seems to affect mostly adults, and more specifically, adult male scientists.
The most recent victim of this Foot-in-mouth disease is Tim Hunt, a 2001 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, for his comment about women in the lab.
I’ve written previously about the fact that because of the lobbying efforts of the animal experimentation industry, at least 95 percent of all animals in U.S. laboratories — mainly mice and rats — are not considered “animals” under federal law. These animals are excluded from the minimal protections of the law, and are not even counted in federal reports. Policymakers, scientists and the public really have no idea how many animals there actually are in laboratories. Thus, discussions about the extent of this massive scientific and ethical problem — and what needs to be done about it — have been limited by this lack of data.
However, an important new study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics fills this void by reporting data on the use of all animals — mice and rats included — at some of the most prestigious facilities in the country. The results are alarming, and have received widespread media coverage, ranging from Buzzfeed to Yahoo Health to NBC News.
Fact: The CIA’s torture program was directly inspired by animal experiments.
In the 1960s, dogs were subjected to random electric shocks from which they could not escape. Eventually the dogs gave up trying to avoid the painful shocks, not even escaping when a path to escape was finally presented to them.
From the New York Times:
The dogs wouldn’t jump. All they had to do to avoid electric shocks was leap over a small barrier, but there they sat in boxes in a lab… passive and whining.
As we now know, these “learned helplessness” experiments on dogs and other animals became the foundation for brutal CIA torture techniques, such as waterboarding.
What concerns me most as a medical doctor is the fact that two psychologists hired by the CIA, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, directed these human torture experiments. The psychologists were curious about whether the theories of animal “learned helplessness” might work on humans.
Read arguments for and against animal experimentation at ProCon.org
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 :
- 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?
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.
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.
Listen in as I join a panel to discuss on HuffPost Live why medical research would be much improved if we cut out the animals (animal experiments).
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.
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.