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Why the use of animals in research remains vital
Veterinary doctor, Project officer for the animal experimentation office, Institute of Biological Sciences, CNRS
At this time when Europe is adopting stricter rules for laboratory animals’ protection at the international level, a minority of radial activists came up with the petition « stop vivisection » willing to forbid all kind of use of animal models in research.
The main argument of the petitioners is that the biomedical research thoughtlessly massacres an excessive number of animals, especially monkeys, in order to conduct an inefficient research and without taking into account different ways to substitute animals in the tests. It is important then to remind which animals do we use, why do we still need to use them and finally how do we use animals in research.
We eat 1 000 times more animals every year
Which animals? 80% are rodents (mice and rats essentially), 15% are fish, 4% are birds, 0.2% are carnivorous and 0.05% are non-human primates.
How many animals? In Europe, 12 millions of vertebrate animals are used each year, or 1 animal for 45 people per year. By comparison, we eat 1 000 times more animals every year. Let’s note that the number of used animals must be limited to a minimum and statistically justified in front of an ethics committee for every scientific project before it is accepted.
Why? The use of animal models, allowing to study integrated functions, has helped to understand and to treat numerous diseases. Life expectancy has almost doubled in a century (45 years in 1900, 80 years in 2015) and this because of a prodigious progress of knowledge in biology and the development of medication based on animal research.
This is explained by many homologies existing between animal species and humans. It is illustrated by the fact that more than 60% of infectious agents which are pathogenic for humans are also pathogenic for one or several animal species.
It is untrue to believe that researchers use animal models because it is easier
This way, because of the research conducted on macaques (1 animal used for 34 000 people in Europe), efficient treatments against Ebola or HIV could have been developed.
How do we use animals? The legislation is very clear: it limits the access to animal tests to cases where there is no possible way of substitution. Those substitution models (cells, soft tissues, computer models) are in fact predominant. We also use an excellent model of artificial skin which enables to substitute animals, but some of the very complex organs (like the brain, for example) cannot be modeled today. Can we really imagine a model of Alzheimer disease, Parkinson or a nervous breakdown on in vitro cells? It is untrue to believe that researchers use animal models because it is easier. It’s a combination of different research methods with and without animals which allows to increase our knowledge and to continue to discover new treatments.
We are not 70 kg rats
Director, Antidote Europe
It takes about 10 to 12 years and 500 million euros for a medicine to be used, starting from it’s discovery to it’s implementation on the market. It is also important to remind that most of components which seem promising for laboratory animals (92 out of 100) fail during clinical trials on humans.
Such an important failure rate clearly reveals that laboratory animals are not reliable models when it comes to assess the efficiency and the toxicity of new medicine intended to treat human diseases. It is the case despite the fact that those components are tested on two animal species: a rodent (usually a rat) and a non-rodent (usually a dog).
The directive is much behind the enormous progress science has made in the last 65 years
The law is, to a large extend, responsible for this sad situation. The legislative basis regulating the medical tests (directive 2003/63/CE), which still requires tests on animals, relies on the Nuremberg trials held after World War II. The directive is much behind the enormous progress science has made in the last 65 years.
Currently it is mandatory to submit data coming from tests on animals, while it is only optional for tests on human tissues, like pharmacogenomics.
However, the pharmaceutical industry acknowledges the importance of our genetic heritage and that it is time to treat people according to the new paradigm of “personalized medicine”, which means by taking into account the specific DNA of each individual.
It is a win-win situation for all, because it would imply better targeted treatments for each patient and, as a result, less secondary effects.
We cannot continue to ignore the fact that secondary effects of medicine represent the fourth cause of death in France after heart diseases, cancers and cerebrovascular accidents, with about 18 000 deaths per year.
Secondary effects of medicine represent the fourth cause of death in France after heart diseases, cancers and cerebrovascular accidents
When it comes to assess the toxicity of medicine, humans are not 70 kg rats. It is time to go beyond the current norm on which is based the assessment of medicine’s toxicity.
The first step would be to remove the regulatory requirements for animal testing and to replace those tests by scientific methods worthy of the 21st century.