Animals are not only an important part of the Kansas agricultural economy, but the animal research corridor stretching from Manhattan to Kansas City houses many laboratories that conduct animal testing for international pharmaceutical companies. This research settles in Kansas because Kansans have a long history of knowing animals.
Therefore, when the president of the Humane Society of the United States (unrelated to the humane animal shelters in our local communities) represents a recently published science report on the limitations of mouse models for certain human inflammatory diseases as “A Scientific Indictment of Animal Research,” it is important to point out this attempt to use science to justify their drive to end all animal use in research is dead wrong.
The science report in PNAS was a further refinement of our knowledge about which animal models are useful for studying various diseases, and was not a blanket condemnation of animal research at all. His argument that research animals are only useful when they mimic humans is simple-minded. Much modern research is done on other animals because they possess a basic primitive trait but do not have a complexity that confounds experiments.
One example is a primitive one-celled organism, Tetrahymena thermophila , that allows us to study the ultrastructure, physiology, development, and biochemistry of cells without our added-on complexity. Solutions to the chemical problems of living are usually solved only once and remain operational in the lineage up to humans today.
Nobel Laureate Andre Lwoff grew Tetrahymena in pure culture in 1923; this led to the later Nobel-prize winning discovery of ribozymes, as well as lysosomes, telomeres, etc. Indeed, all but two of the Nobel Prizes in Physiology or Medicine have been based on animal research.
Researchers have no reason to use research animals that do not contribute to our understanding. They
have lists of animals that are useful for researching certain diseases and a longer list of animals that are not appropriate. The recent PNAS paper merely advances that knowledge.
A partial list of critical breakthroughs from animal research includes:
Sequencing the genome of a primitive sponge reveals genes for the first signaling pathways and structures of animals, including early genes implicated in cancer.
Hydra and comb jellies allow us to understand body patterning, the origin of epithelia, and regulation of development.
Flatworms help us understand regeneration of body parts, stem cells, and the beginning of complex behavior.
The roundworm C. elegans shows us the genetic control of development and reveals that some cells must die during normal development.
Huge neurons in the squid allow us to study nerve signal transmission because human axons are far too small.
The 20,000 neurons of the sea hare Aplysia permit us to match nerve cell chemistry with behavior.
Millions of fruit flies drive our understanding of genetics.
The chicken is our model for tissue grafting and research on the over-expression of gene products.
Ferrets made recent news in studies of mammal-to-mammal transfer of the bird flu virus.
Downsizing of the chimpanzee research population still recognizes that there are some research applications for which these animals are the only option.
Only when the nine-banded armadillo was discovered to harbor leprosy in the 1970s did we have an animal model; effective drugs were soon developed and Western leprosariums closed.
No computer simulation, tissue culture, or other model begins to approach the complexity of whole living organisms. Alexander Fleming tested penicillin in a Petri dish and decided it did not work as a clinically effective antibiotic. But Florey and Chain tested it using mice and found it was effective. The history of biological research contradicts any claims that we can set aside all animal research and just use simulations.
Failure to have use animals in research would mean nearly all vaccines, antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals could not have been developed. Are advocates of ending animal research willing to bear the responsibility for continued polio, leprosy, etc.?
We are in a new golden age of discovery connecting DNA to its physical expressions. Our understanding of life processes forms a vast fabric with threads that tie together protists and sponges and worms and mice and chimpanzees and humans.
The H.S.U.S. no-animal-research position also ignores animal research that allows us to provide better care for our animals by advancing veterinary science. And ecotoxicity testing, based on the diversity and complexity of animal systems also serves animals by protecting our shared environment.
To end animal use in research makes no more sense than ending plant research or research in the physical sciences. It threatens your health and the health of future generations.
John Richard Schrock is a Board member of the National Animal Interest Alliance