Animal Testing

9 September 2016

There is always room for reaction, incorrect data gathering, or contamination when testing. Can this uncertainty be placed on human lives? These uncertainties are placed on what medical science has to thank most: animals. Animals have been irreplaceable in the processes of mapping genomes, transplanting organs, and ridding humans and animals of diseases and disorders. Many call it immoral, but it is necessary and only beneficial. Medical research has saved or improved the lives of millions of people, and animals.

Today’s medicines and surgical techniques could not have been developed without research into how the body works, and how it reacts to procedures and substances – the results of animal research programs taking place in hospitals, universities, and research centers all over the world. These advances on behalf of animal testing have been applied to human health for years. The history of animal testing is a long and interesting one. It is believed that animal experimentation began with Greek physician/scientists; Aristotle and Erasistratus being among them.

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Physicians in Rome such as Galen, known as “the father of vivisection”, followed suit. Later physicians of the Islamic Golden Age used animal testing to further human anatomy studies. Ibn Zuhr practiced surgical techniques on animals before performing them on humans. Observations and dissections of modern medical sciences first took place in the 17th century. English physician William Harvey used animals to study the circulatory system. In the 18th century, Antoine Lavoisier first used guinea pigs in experiments in respiration.

Otto Loewi, Edgar Adrian, and David Hubel made advances in neurology and the study of vision. These basic scientific advancements gave way to many more in medicine. Yet, these advances and their respective testing are under major scrutiny. These debates over the rights of animals can be divided into four broad phases. The first started in the 1860s and lasted until World War I. During this period, animal research became an important method of investigation and also as a significant source of public controversy.

For a variety of reasons, the public found the idea of intentionally inflicting harm on animals in order to learn more about health and medicine particularly disturbing. World-wide, opposition to the use of animals in research peaked in the last two decades of the 19th century and then began to decline. After World War I, the animal research issue became marginalized and of relatively little consequence for politicians and policy makers. The short, second phase of the animal research debate lasted from around 1920 to 1950.

During this period, animal research continued to develop as a means of discovering new biological information and as a route to possible cures; the discovery of insulin is an example of the benefit of animal research. Opposition to the practice was sporadic and of little public impact, despite the support of such powerful individuals as William Randolph Hearst ,owner of  many American media companies, who promoted an anti-vivisection agenda through his many newspapers. The third phase of the animal research debate started around 1950 and continued to around 1975.

After World War II, the governments of most developed countries became major sponsors of scientific research, including biomedical research. For example, the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) grew dramatically and has continued to grow at almost 10% a year in constant dollars, with a few minor periods of cuts, up to the present time. This growth led to a huge expansion in publicly funded research. In the private sector, the discovery of penicillin and streptomycin led to an explosion of pharmaceutical research and in the size of the prescription drug industry.

These expansions in government funding for biomedical research and in private-sector investment in drug discovery created an increase in demand for laboratory animals. The last phase is considered the modern phase of the debate. Despite periodic calls throughout history for greater sensitivity toward animals, it was not until the 1970s that the question of their rights became a social issue. British psychologist Richard Ryder coined the phrase “speciesism” to describe prejudice and discrimination practiced by humans against animals, supposedly involved in animal testing as opposed to human testing.

Ryder’s ideas received little publicity, but they were embraced by an Australian philosopher named Peter Singer. In 1975 Singer published an influential book called Animal Liberation, which described in detail the ways animals were subjected to pain and suffering on farms, in slaughterhouses, and specifically in laboratory experiments. Singer publicized the notion of speciesism and called for an end to it. He argued that speciesism is similar to racism and sexism, in that they all deny moral and legal rights to one group in favor of another.

Henry Spira formed Animal Rights International after attending one of Singer’s lectures. Spira was a social reformer who had worked in the civil rights and women’s liberation movements. He turned his attention to the animal rights movement after he “began to wonder why we cuddle some animals and put a fork in others”. Spira was instrumental in bringing various animal groups together to work for common causes. Many people credit him with pressuring cosmetics companies to seek alternatives to animal testing for their products during the late 1980s.

But yet these groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, The Animal Liberation Front, and the Anti-Animal Coalition, ignore one thing, the positive advances made, and the fact that they would not have occurred without the animal research involved. Major advances include asthma therapy, anti-anxiety medications, high blood pressure and heart problem treatments, chemotherapy for cancer, clot-busting medicines to prevent and treat heart attacks and strokes, ulcer medication which reduces the need for surgery, open heart surgery, joint replacements, and organ transplants.

Research scientists performing experiments perform them using a few basic rules. Experimenting on animals is acceptable if (and only if) suffering is minimized in all experiments and human benefits are gained which could not be obtained by using other methods. A second “rule of thumb” is the use of the three R’s: Reduction, Replacement, and Refinement. Reduction is the act of simply reducing the amount of experiments done by sharing gathered information among the members of the scientific community.

This is one of the many changes research scientists have made in recent years; it is in the nature of science to do many experiments and take averages to get more specific quantitative data, but that has been compromised for the sake of the animals. Next, replacement is the use of other means of experimentation, such as experimentation on bacteria or cell cultures as opposed to experimentation on full animals. Lastly, refinement is what most animal rights group target: the refinement of living conditions, and quality of life for animals being tested upon. Yet, how does this quality of life relate to that of other animals?

Over three and a half million animal procedures a year are currently carried out for biomedical research and testing in England. Mice, rats and other rodents account for 82% of the total, with most of the remainder being fish and birds. From an individual perspective, each of us enjoys the medical benefits of animal research from the use of three mice and one rat over our entire lifespan. While three and a half million animals a year may sound like a large number, a look at some of the other ways we use and treat animals in our modern society helps put it into perspective. It is estimated that UK meat and fish eaters consume 2. billion animals every year, nearly 700 times the number that are used in research.

The number of stray dogs collected each year is estimated to be just fewer than 100,000. About 7,000 of these were put to sleep, the equivalent of 130 dogs euthanized weekly. A report in 2001 found that 1 in 5 drivers, around 6. 3 million, have knocked a cat or dog down while driving in their car and a quarter of those (about 1. 5 million) confessed to simply driving off without checking to see if the animal was alright or to report the incident. The real number including those who don’t admit it is unknown.

This works out at over 100,000 cats and dogs hit by cars per year. And lastly, more small animals are killed by domestic cats in one week than are used annually in UK biomedical research. The numbers are stunning, but only from one country alone. The total worldwide maximum is likely to be about 60 million procedures done a year. Yet people are up in arms over the living conditions of experimental animals, and none of those listed above. The case for animal experiments is that they will produce such great benefits for humanity that it is morally acceptable to harm a few animals.

The equivalent case against is that the level of suffering and the number of animals involved are both so high that the benefits to humanity don’t provide moral justification. But it’s important to note the care put into planning experiments. All research scientists use a rough outline called “ethical arithmetic” in order to decide whether the experimentation is necessary. If performing an experiment would cause more harm than not performing it, then it is ethically wrong to perform that experiment.

The harm that will result from not doing the experiment is the result of multiplying three things together: the moral value of a human being, the number of human beings who would have benefited, and the value of the benefit that each human being won’t get. The harm that the experiment will cause is the result of multiplying together: the moral value of an experimental animal, the number of animals suffering in the experiment, and the negative value of the harm done to each animal. But it isn’t that simple because it’s virtually impossible to assign a moral value to a being, or to assign a value to the harm done to each individual.

The harm that will be done by the experiment is known beforehand, but the benefit is unknown: the harm done by the experiment is caused by an action, while the harm resulting from not doing it is caused by an omission. Ethical arithmetic is far from perfect, but shows the effort put into minimizing animal pain and maximizing the benefit reaped from animal research. Another strong argument is the evolutionary difference between humans and experimental animals. If humans are more advanced they must react differently to medicines, vaccines, and treatments correct? This isn’t always the case.

For example, animals were used in the development of a rabies vaccine, syphilis treatments, and penicillin. In 1880, Pasteur developed an anti-rabies vaccine by using dogs. First, Pasteur developed a reproducible way of inducing rabies in the dogs. This he did by using injections of infected tissue. Next, he developed a vaccine, which involved weakening the virus (viruses had not been discovered at that time, so he did not know what sort of organism he was dealing with). His method seems to have been based largely on guesswork. He dried the spinal cords of infected rabbits for up to 14 days.

He then used a homogenate of 14-day, 13-day, etc. dried spinal cords given over a 14-day period to vaccinate the dogs, and was successful in immunising 50 dogs, so that they were resistant to the virulent virus. This research took about five years, and it showed that his vaccine worked in dogs, but he did not know whether it would work in humans. However, at that time, he was faced with a child who had been badly bitten by a rabid dog, and he was asked by the parents to use the vaccine. When he did it, Pasteur realized that he was taking a big risk.

Had the boy developed rabies, Pasteur might have been accused of causing it with his vaccine. Fortunately, the boy did not develop the disease, and among the first 350 people that he treated, only a single person developed the disease, and she had not been vaccinated until 37 days after being bitten. Still, he was accused of causing rabies in this case. It has been estimated that somewhere between 40% and 80% of people bitten by rabid dogs develop rabies, so there is not the slightest doubt that he had in fact created a highly effective human vaccine, which has since saved many thousands of human lives. In about 1907, Paul Ehrlich suggested that some arsenic compounds might be able to kill the organism Treponema pallidum that causes syphilis. He screened over 600 such compounds in vitro, but none of them showed significant promise as drugs for treating the disease. However, in 1909, a colleague in his laboratory had managed to infect rabbits with syphilis, and he was able to use this animal model to screen these chemicals again. One of these, later named Salvarsan, was effective against t it in the rabbit model, and was later found to be effective in humans.

This revolutionized the treatment of syphilis, though, as a drug, it had many disadvantages and was subsequently replaced by Neosalvarsan and later by antibiotics. Again, it is very difficult to see how this could have been done using humans. The sheer logistics of working out dose levels, medical histories and treatment regimens for hundreds of patients with syphilis probably at different stages of the disease, with no prior suggestion that any of the drugs were effective,  would have made the research completely impossible.

The third example is the development of penicillin, which was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1929, though he was unable to purify it. This was eventually done by Chain and Florey in 1939. As penicillin kills bacteria in vitro, this purification did not require the use of animals. However, once purified samples were available, it was necessary to determine whether it was toxic, and whether it was active in vivo. This was done by using mice in a classical experiment described by Medawar.

It might have been plausible to test penicillin directly in humans, but it would have been extremely risky. A substance known to be toxic to bacteria might well be toxic to humans, and it might have been difficult to determine whether it was successful. The real triumph of this research was the use of an in vitro model in the purification of the antibiotic. A Petri dish of bacteria is not very obviously a model of a human, but in this case, in spite of the differences, it was useful in determining which fractions contained the active principle.

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