Before I get to the examples I need to, once again, emphasize a couple of points. Number one, scientists should not claim animals can predict human response to drugs and disease and regulatory agencies should not make that claim either. Neither should regulatory agencies mandate policies that are based on the false claim that animals can predict human response. Number two, in our book, Animal Models in Light of Evolution, Shanks and I are not advocating for or against animal-based research per se. Our arguments are about science not ethics. We are merely saying that one aspect of animal-based research (using animals to predict human response to drugs and disease) does not work and hence should not be performed. It does not matter what the alternatives are, if a practice does not work it should abandoned.
That being said, the question many ask is: What Will We Do If We Don’t Experiment On Animals? (note that Jean Greek DVM and I wrote a book with that tricky title so criticisms that we have not addressed this question before are unfounded). I will briefly address that question here. There are many ways to advance knowledge without using animals.
Animal models actually occupy a very small percentage of society’s research options. However, despite not allowing scientists to predict human response, they receive the lion’s share of the research funding. There are 2 points that need to be made: 1. Society does not need new research methods; it simply needs to fund the ones we already have. (New research methods are always welcome but what we currently have is pretty good!) For example, performing research on animals is not going to solve the problem of drug resistant infections. Research in physics on the other hand might, because physics offers society the chance to design nanomachines that will mechanically destroy the bacteria. Regardless of the bacteria’s genetic makeup it can be mechanically crushed or chewed up. So society needs the knowledge that would come from underfunded research areas like physics, chemistry, genetics, epidemiology, clinical research and so forth. 2. Society needs to make a fundamental change from animal-based research to human-based research. If it is humans we are trying to help then scientists must study humans, including diseases and drug reactions in humans. This is already being done but again funding needs to be increased to these areas. The way to accomplish both number 1 and 2 is to stop funding research that either simply does not work or that has a very low probability of leading to treatments. This will free up the money that needs to be directed to the research methods where future cures will come from!
Genome-wide association studies and other studies in genetics will lead to more examples of personalized medicine. Epidemiology linked smoking to cancer and heart disease, vitamin deficiencies to their diseases, folic acid deficiency in pregnant mothers to spina bifida and many more. In vitro research using human tissues, in vitro metabolism studies using human liver cells, more clinical research in general, more extensive clinical trials for new medications including gene-based trials, funding for human observation studies, all these are human-based. Autopsies are also human-based obviously and they are very underfunded and underperformed. When autopsies are performed on people who died in intensive care units, the pathologist frequently finds a disease that contributed to the death of the patient that the physicians had missed. There is still a lot physicians have to learn about diseases and autopsies allow us to obtain that knowledge.
A new method of obtaining knowledge about a drug will do in humans is called microdosing. With microdosing very, very tiny amounts of a new drug are administered to human volunteers and scientists evaluate what the drug does to the body and what the body does to the drug.
Post-marketing drug surveillance is required but not enforced. Considering all the drugs that we now use for one purpose but that were designed for another, this is a very important area.
We need more funding in basic research in the fields of chemistry and physics and then the followup research in engineering. That is where we get the great advances in technology. And finally we need far more emphasis in terms of money going to prevention. Prevention has long been ignored in this society, as it offers no monetary reward for the practitioners. It is estimated that 80% of all cancers could be prevented and approximately the same percentage of heart disease and other killers.
Using animal models to predict human response to drugs and disease is like using a truck to go to Mars. It will not work. If a researcher wants to use animal models as heuristic devices, then simply say so and be done with it. But, as I have said many times, society will not allow such research to continue if they realize it is knowledge for knowledge sake. Researchers know this hence the charade continues.