Flight risk

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
483,
Pages:
373–374
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/483373b
Published online

As the campaign against animal research intensifies, so must the response.

Picture a crowd of scientists waving placards plastered with photographs of stroke victims and sufferers of Parkinson's disease. They are demonstrating outside the corporate headquarters of British Airways, Lufthansa and Delta, demanding that the airlines stop impeding the biomedical research that could deliver big advances against these and other diseases.

Seem far-fetched? Maybe. But if scientists want continued access to animals as research models, they will have to appear on the front line with every bit as much visibility, determination, organization and persistence as animal-rights activists now muster.

In a renewed campaign targeting transportation companies, protestors have found a public pressure point so effective that only a few major airlines still agree to transport non-human primates bound for research labs (see page 381). Nor is the focus confined to primate transportation: earlier this year, the last ferry company that was willing to carry research rodents into the United Kingdom stopped doing so. Such blocks, scientists warn, could shift much animal work to countries where regulations are more lax.

But there is a silent majority for whom the activists do not speak. This includes most scientists, many ordinary citizens and millions of patients and their families touched by disease and injury. This constituency must mobilize in the defence of human health if the gains enabled by future primate research — and, ultimately, all animal research — are not to be thrown away.

“Silence from the research community will mean lost access to research animals.”

Scientists and their allies must, of course, continue to be open about the price animals pay in research. They must openly acknowledge, immediately correct and do everything they can to prevent lapses in the care of the animals in their charge. At the same time, scientists must make every effort to use lower animal, and non-animal, models where possible, as regulations already require. And alongside all of that, they must emphasize the tangible and compelling improvements to human life that animal research has made possible.

Consider stroke, which affects some 795,000 people in the United States alone each year — 1 person every 40 seconds — at a cost in excess of US$40 billion. More than 1,000 experimental treatments aimed at protecting brains cells in acute stroke have been developed in cells and rodents; none has been effective in humans. So a possible advance in a paper published last month is significant (D. J. Cook et al. Nature 483, 213217; 2012). Using macaques — animals whose neuroanatomy, genetics and behaviour are far closer to humans than are those of rodents — the study showed that a drug called a PSD-95 inhibitor reduced the volume of brain tissue killed by the stroke and significantly preserved neurological function. It has now moved into human trials, where early results are promising.

Many other advances have been made possible by primate research. Trials of brain–machine interfaces that allow quadriplegics to control robotic limbs with their minds, for example, and of gene therapy for haemophilia B. And deep-brain stimulation to alleviate the symptoms of advanced Parkinson's disease. Primates have also helped the development of antiviral therapies to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; of Rituxan (rituximab), a key drug against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and of Benlysta (belimumab), the first new lupus treatment in 50 years. Primates are making possible strides towards a vaccine against Ebola, and they have affirmed that the diabetes drug pioglitazone can slow early Parkinson's disease — a therapy now being taken into human trials.

Future advances of this kind cannot be allowed to stall. The scientific community and its allies in patient and research advocacy groups should mount a vigorous, coordinated campaign to lobby major airlines. They should vocally support companies such as Air France that continue to fly research primates. They should confront others with the human cost of their alignment with animal activists. And to those airlines that are wavering, they should make a pointed, persuasive case.

An apt target in the last category is United Airlines, which merged with Continental in 2010. Continental was the last major US airline carrying non-human primates for research. The now-merged airline, still under the name of United, says it is “in the process of integrating” the former United and Continental policies on transporting research primates, for publication this autumn. Only a powerful and visible public campaign urging United to transport research primates will give the firm the political cover it needs to take such a position.

Urgent and dramatic action is necessary. It is increasingly clear that silence and passivity from the research community will lead to only one result: lost access to research animals in the countries best equipped for their responsible, humane and justified use.

Comments

  1. Report this comment #40385

    Richard Lieber said:

    I believe that this represents a paradigm shift for most scientists on a very large scale. Nice job on the article.

  2. Report this comment #40388

    Aidan Murphy said:

    I agree with the author's suggestion that emphasizing the improvements to human life that animal experimentation has and continues to yield is probably an effective strategy for persuading the public and the airlines that animal transportation must continue. However, it neglects the fact that a large proportion of research in non-human primates (especially, for example, in neuroscience) is basic research, with no immediate clinical or translational applications to pull on the heart strings. What emotive images would you propose vision neuroscientists plaster on their placards?!

  3. Report this comment #40429

    Dario Ringach said:

    Very well said! As for what imagery to use... I would suggest patients speaking up about how the work has benefited their lives, such as this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMaCiuapAW0

  4. Report this comment #40433

    Aidan Murphy said:

    It's compelling viewing Dario. I just read the excellent Isaac Asimov quote from you your article on the use of nonhuman animals in biomedical research, that I think will become my mantra: "Today?s science is tomorrow?s solution."

  5. Report this comment #40437

    Dario Ringach said:

    Aidan, The Asimov article on basic science is worth reading in its entirety as it illustrates how generation after generation of we have to explain to the public the value of science.

    Why is it important to study quantum physics? Why do we care to gaze at the stars? Why do we care about graph theory? Why do we care about the ion channels in a the cell membrane? Why do we care about a fruit fly? Why do we care to understand the brain computation?

    It is our responsibility and duty as scientists to reach out to the public and explain our work. I think the plight of animal research is only a reflection of a larger issue regarding the perception of science by the public, which we see play out in topics ranging from evolution, to climate change, to vaccinations and stem cell research.

    This editorial is right on... except that it could have been broadened to encompass science in general.

  6. Report this comment #40438

    Jonathan Hnt said:

    As this article notes, scientists are ethical obligated to, when possible, reduce the number of animals used in research. Yet several studies (links below), as well as my own experiences and discussions with others, indicates that data sharing in many parts of life sciences remains rare. Many scientists (though certainly not all) refuse to share the raw data from animal experiments with others which means other researchers are unable to test new hypothesis on old data sets – despite technological changes which should make it possible to share data ever more easily. Faced with this behaviour, it is tempting to conclude that scientists are driven to animal experiments in order advance their stature and career, not to altruistically reduce human suffering.
    It is difficult to see how one can claim to be making an effort to reduce animal use in research (as required by ethical arguments for animal use in research) while refusing to share data with colleagues and "competitors."

    Scientists need to push towards a less hyper-competitive environment which rewards cooperation and improved outcomes, not just high-impact publications. Then we may have an easier time convincing the public that we're working for them.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126798/?tool=pmcentrez
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3126798/?tool=pmcentrez
    http://www.plosone.org/article/comments/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0007078;jsessionid=635B6D092F797B274EDAC386E289E6B4

  7. Report this comment #40442

    Paul Browne said:

    This is a very welcome editorial, but would have benefited from more advice on what scientists should do to make their voices heard, and where to go for advice on how to do so. For example, they can to contact organizations such as Understanding Animal Research, Americans for Medical Progress or the Basel Declaration Society

    http://www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk/
    http://www.amprogress.org/
    http://www.basel-declaration.org/basel-declaration-society/

    There are also organizations such as Speaking of Research which work to counter the misleading claims of animal rights activists and highlight the role played by animal research in medical advancement.

    http://speakingofresearch.com/

    Scientists are not the only people who have a duty to speak out on this issue, the medical research charities – who after all fund much of the research that is under threat – are ideally placed to mobilize public opinion in favor of animal research, but this can only really be effective if they speak out as individual charities rather than leaving this task to umbrella groups (crucial though the role of umbrella groups is). We need patients, family members and charity volunteers to get writing to transport companies, not just scientists. Scientists, as members of charity scientific advisory boards and as the recipients of funding, need to make it clear to the charities that they owe it to the patients they represent to speak out.

  8. Report this comment #40464

    Dario Ringach said:

    Asimov's eloquent defense of basic research — http://speakingofresearch.com/2012/03/23/of-what-use/

  9. Report this comment #40471

    Jesse Vargas said:

    As a researcher, I agree that there are some experiments that can not be done well without the use of research animals. However, I think we owe it as scientists and seekers of truth to be honest about the impact and cost of animal research. How many studies done in animals simply do not pan out? How many studies have very little immediate relevance to human health? These are difficult questions that must be addressed, as are the concerns over curiosity-driven non-human primate work that is not relevant now, or possibly decades from now, for human health or disease. The current dogma in most research is that a result from yeast, flies, or cell culture gains importance and relevance as we move up the model organism list, without stopping to consider if the next organism up is any more relevant to human disease than the previous one. We often speak of model systems as a "good system" for study x, but without validation of translation. A good starting point is to ask what proportion of studies in a model organism (mice for example) were translatable to humans. Sadly we all know the answer is not nearly as many as we would like.

  10. Report this comment #40481

    Jms rndll said:

    I suppose the people against animal research would prefer humans to be used instead? If they could suggest an alternative for testing, I'm all ears. Using mammals to study mammals just makes sense. I wonder if these same people put this much energy into our food animals, we know those animals are subject to far worse than animal testing.

  11. Report this comment #40511

    Yoav Kashiv said:

    Experiments on animals are both immoral and bad science. Actually, unintentionally, the author of the editorial shows it in 2 comments:
    1. "More than 1,000 experimental treatments aimed at protecting brains cells in acute stroke have been developed in cells and rodents; none has been effective in humans."
    2. "Primates have also helped the development of antiviral therapies to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; of Rituxan (rituximab), a key drug against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and of Benlysta (belimumab), the first new lupus treatment in 50 years.", i.e., 50 years of experiments on animals produced 0 treatments for lupus!
    Regardless of the immoral aspect of experiments on animals, an experimental technique that gives such a low success rate should simply be abandoned! The morally justified campaign to ban transport of animals to labs may benefit humanity by promoting non-animal research tools that will actually give relevant data for humans.

    Two quick replies to comments by Jms rndll (James Randall?):
    1. "I suppose the people against animal research would prefer humans to be used instead?"
    First, all drugs are eventually tested in clinical trials, so all are tested on humans.
    Second, if one thinks that experiments on animals are indicative for humans, one should look at the quotes above and also consider the fact that only ~5% of drugs that show good results in animals are eventually approved for humans. Besides an occasional random agreement between animal models and human, the agreement is very low and inconsistent.
    Third, even after clinical trials, which are done on relatively small number of people, the differences between individuals are such that every time one takes a medicine s/he basically experiment on himself. This is evident in the large number of people dying every year from taking medicine.
    2. "Using mammals to study mammals just makes sense." Yes, intuitively it make perfect sense. However, after 100s of years of experiments on animals we know that this is not the case. There are major differences even between rats and mice, let alone between animals and humans, including our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Actually, there are big differences between men and women, children and adults, different ethnic groups, etc.

    The quote by Isaac Asimov is true, but irrelevant for this discussion, as the issue is not basic research, but rather research on animals. Here are some relevant quotes:
    1. "Giving cancer to laboratory animals has not and will not help us to understand the disease or to treat those persons suffering from it."

    • Dr. A. Sabin, developer of the oral polio vaccine, 1986.

    2. "I abhor vivisection. It should at least be curbed. Better, it should be abolished. I know of no achievement through vivisection, no scientific discovery, that could not have been obtained without such barbarism and cruelty. The whole thing is evil."
    -Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, 1961.
    3. ?How fortunate we didn?t have these animal tests in the 1940s, for penicillin would probably never been granted a license, and possibly the whole field of antibiotics might never have been realized.?
    -Alexander Fleming, 1945 Nobel Prize winner "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases"
    4. "Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives."
    -Albert Schweitzer

  12. Report this comment #40512

    Yoav Kashiv said:

    One more thing, people leaving comments here need, rightfully so, to log in and be identified by name. Why then people writing editorials are not identified? Are the ashamed of what they write...? Nature should follow some other journals, like Science, where people writing editorials sign with their name and affiliation.

  13. Report this comment #40514

    Rina Deych, RN said:

    Ditto to everything Mr. Kashiv said. Animals are a poor and unreliable model for human illness. Digoxin was held up for 10 years because it was proven toxic in dogs. And just look what thalidomide, a drug proven safe in every other species, did to people. If 30-40% of drugs tested in rats react differently (when adjusted for weight) in mice, and if after decades of so-called research on chimpanzees, who are between 95 and 98.5% genetically identical to man, has not produced AIDS in HIV-infected primates, how can we hope to extrapolate data from other species to humans (or to any other species, for that matter)? To the person who asked if we should experiment on people, instead: Remember, after animal studies, the drug or procedure is going to be given to/done on a human – SOME human, usually with informed consent – for the first time, with unpredictable results. Animal research is not producing reliable results. What we need is more clinical and epidemiological research, as well as stem cell and HUMAN genetic research so we can determine the CAUSE of disease and learn how to prevent and/or treat appropriately.
    Rina Deych, RN / Documentation Specialist

  14. Report this comment #40565

    Jean-Philippe Couture said:

    Although not working with animals myself, I strongly feel that this editorial is accurate and should lead to a strong response from the scientific community. The use of animals in research may seem unpretty to some people, but it has done a lot in improving the condition of the human race, and even of the animals themselves. I will answer to M. Kashiv, as his arguments did not convince me, and need some clarifications.

    "Experiments on animals are both immoral and bad science. Actually, unintentionally, the author of the editorial shows it in 2 comments:
    1. "More than 1,000 experimental treatments aimed at protecting brains cells in acute stroke have been developed in cells and rodents; none has been effective in humans."
    2. "Primates have also helped the development of antiviral therapies to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV; of Rituxan (rituximab), a key drug against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; and of Benlysta (belimumab), the first new lupus treatment in 50 years.", i.e., 50 years of experiments on animals produced 0 treatments for lupus!
    Regardless of the immoral aspect of experiments on animals, an experimental technique that gives such a low success rate should simply be abandoned! The morally justified campaign to ban transport of animals to labs may benefit humanity by promoting non-animal research tools that will actually give relevant data for humans."

    This statement, as opposed to the ones it tries to condemn, is invalid. First, one could never predict if data from rodents or any animal model will be reproducable in humans. The subtle differences between species, and even genders as you mentionned, need to be addressed by thouroughly supervised research in said models to finally lead to tests in humans. Plus, using incremently complicated organisms (cells – rodents – non-human primates – human) helps understanding better the implications of the treatments, and is the most efficient and logical way to get to clinical tests. Second, the low success rate should not be an argument for ceasing such research, as there is currently no other biologically relevant alternatives to do good reasearch. Plus, would you agree to ban potentially life-saving drugs on the basis of historically poor statistical chances of success? I would not. Finally, I will point out that non-animal research tools could never be as accurate as actual animals to replicate life, and would definitely lead to erreneous data.

    I will now comment on the quotes you brought to strenghten your arguments.

    1. "Giving cancer to laboratory animals has not and will not help us to understand the disease or to treat those persons suffering from it."

    Dr. A. Sabin, developer of the oral polio vaccine, 1986.

    This has been proved wrong a lot of times. Giving cancer to lab animals has led to an overwhelmingly huge set of data on the biology of cancer and has already led to the discovery of very useful drugs to treat it. I don' t know how one could ignore that!

    2. "I abhor vivisection. It should at least be curbed. Better, it should be abolished. I know of no achievement through vivisection, no scientific discovery, that could not have been obtained without such barbarism and cruelty. The whole thing is evil."
    -Dr. Charles Mayo, founder of the Mayo Clinic, 1961.

    Vivisection in the sixties and vivisection nowadays greatly differs. The horror that were once tolerated are no longer welcome, and one should not judge the science that is done today on the unsupervised practice that were done more than 50 years ago..

    3. ?How fortunate we didn?t have these animal tests in the 1940s, for penicillin would probably never been granted a license, and possibly the whole field of antibiotics might never have been realized.?
    -Alexander Fleming, 1945 Nobel Prize winner "for the discovery of penicillin and its curative effect in various infectious diseases"

    This is an assumption, that cannot be proven true.

    4. "Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives." -Albert Schweitzer

    Again, we do not regard the lives of lab animals to be worthless. If we did, we would not have the laws and guidelines we have nowadays when working with these animals.

  15. Report this comment #41164

    T Andrews said:

    "Many scientists (though certainly not all) refuse to share the raw data from animal experiments with others which means other researchers are unable to test new hypothesis on old data sets ? despite technological changes which should make it possible to share data ever more easily. "

    This is the paradox of the pharmaceutical industry. It you want your drug to reach patients (so it can do good in the world) it needs to go through clinical testing, marketing and large-scale production. These are extremely expensive endeavours which universities and gov't are unwilling to pay for. Instead the scientist has to get the pharmaceutical industry interesting in buying the rights to the drug and to do that it needs to be patentable. In order to be patentable you have to keep it (and results from experiments using it) secret. Yes it is shamefully inefficient but we as a society have so far failed to find a better system.

  16. Report this comment #41165

    T Andrews said:

    "Regardless of the immoral aspect of experiments on animals, an experimental technique that gives such a low success rate should simply be abandoned!"

    Many fields go through rough patches and don't produce ground breaking results for decades, should they all be abandoned? All scientific research has an element of chance, most lab experiments don't work on the first, second or third try. Novel experimental setups can easily take a year of trial-and-error to get working correctly. Should we just abandon anything that doesn't give instant results?

    Secondly, what is the alternative? if the best/only method we have doesn't find a cure/treatment for a disease within 10years should we give up on that disease and say "Sorry patients you're disease is just to hard, so no cures or treatments for you."

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