Animal Rights

Money in Animal-Based Research

| by Dr Ray Greek

The issue of money in animal-based research has been raised and I think it is worth exploring.

From Specious Science (which we wrote in 2002):

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We can’t really fault the average young scientist trying to get ahead. He is just doing what he has been told is the right thing in order for science and medicine to advance. The journal editors and senior staff scientists know better. They have been around long enough to see through the ruse. The reasons they so tenaciously cling to the status quo are complex. Ego and greed play a big role. The process of obtaining medical research funding in the United States today is a deeply entrenched “old buddy” system, and it is rare that a whistle blower will emerge from this environment. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the federal agency charged with the responsibility for allocating taxpayer-generated funds for biomedical research. The most frequent NIH grant—the R01 “investigator initiated” grant—supports both the researcher and the institution where the research is employed. In some cases, the institution receives more money from the grant than the researcher, which it can use at its discretion, whether that means paying the electricity bill or an English teacher’s salary. Ahrens continues:

Since most overhead is brought into the university by a small number of research professors (at Stanford 5 percent of the faculty bring in over one-half of the indirect cost dollars), proposals to reduce research output are not looked on with favor by many university administrators (1).

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It is difficult to know exactly how much of the NIH budget goes to animal-modeled research. Estimates range from thirty-to-seventy percent. Regardless of the exact amount, however, universities make millions every year. The following is the amount of money (in millions of dollars) for the top ten recipients of NIH grants in 2000. (Note this included both animal-modeled research and nonanimal modeled research)

Johns Hopkins University $419.4
University of Pennsylvania $321.3
University of Washington $302.5
University California, San Francisco $295.3
Washington University, St. Louis $279.5
University Michigan $260.4
Harvard University $250.4
University California Los Angeles $243.6
Yale University $242.8
Columbia University $226.7 (2)

If we take fifty percent as the amount that went to animal modeled research, the top ten recipients alone received over 1.4 billion dollars. (The NIH will not release the exact amount that goes to animal models, so we are forced to estimate.) The record clearly shows that “The NIH under-funds patient-oriented clinical research.” (3) Between 1977 and 1987, only 7.4 percent of the NIH’s R01 funding went to basic patient-oriented research. The largest percentage of the awards went to animal experimentation. Ahrens further states, “By far the largest percentage of NIH support for new R01s…is awarded to applicants for studies of animal (or microbial) models of human disease. Yet, most experienced investigators realize that animal models of arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer are different in important ways from the human condition they are intended to simulate.” Only one-third of NIH competing research grant applications include human subjects. (4) One U.S. Congressional representative said: “It appears that the [medical establishment] system has changed from one of NIH giving grants for scientific research to one being done solely to get NIH grants.” (5)

In 1986, when the president of the Institute of Medicine cautioned that medical research was leaning too heavily on basic animal experiments and not doing enough to support clinical observation, he likened it to the tale of the emperor’s new clothes. (6) No one dares call attention to the matter, for fear of direct or indirect retribution. From the standpoint of self-preservation, it’s far more prudent to remain silent. Researchers and universities are not the only ones who profit from animal models. In fact, animal use in biomedical research is a multi-billion dollar business. Animal breeders profit handsomely from the practice. In 1999, mouse sales topped $200 million. That same year, Charles River Laboratories, one of the largest biological supply houses in the industry, reported $140 million in sales of animals; Harlan Sprague Dawley, an Indianapolis-based source of research-related products, sold more than $60 million worth of animals in 1998; Taconic, another major supplier of such products, reported $36 million in sales; and TJL, a not-for-profit, taxpayer-funded corporation, sold $29 million worth of mice. Mice with specific genes missing cost between $100 to $15,000 each. (7) Suppliers of cages and equipment related to animal-model research have also built themselves a considerable business, as can be seen from these prices for instruments designed specifically for use in animal experiments:

Stereotaxic device for rats $4,500.00

Stereotaxic device for cats and monkeys $7,215.00

Stereotaxic device for dogs $8,580.00

Metabolic gas monitor $27,300.00 Flat treadmill for rodents $9,600.00

Incapacitance analgesia meter $7,300.00

Sliding microtome $9,975.00

Muromachi microwave fixation system for humane killing with immediate deactivation of brain enzymes $70,200.00

Even the media profits from animal experimentation. “Editors want the medical miracle.” (8) (9) Television and newspaper reports on “breakthrough” drugs may exaggerate their effectiveness and minimize the side effects, but no matter—the sensational reports sell papers and increase ratings. Not a week goes by when we are not regaled with stories suggesting that “a cure” for Alzheimer’s, cancer, or the like has been “discovered.” A perusal of the details reveals that the “cure” was wrought in genetically modified mice and that other such “cures” have not translated to humans. (End of quote from Specious Science)

Or maybe you think that all the above is so old things must have changed? If you think that researchers no longer hype their animal-based research as future cures and that the media does not gladly so report, consider the below from Total E-Clips No 2053 April 29, 2010. E-Clips is from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. Please subscribe by emailing [email protected]. It is enlightening.

Today's Feature
Scientists Find Way to Heal Broken Bones Faster
Stanford researchers have found a way to significantly speed up the healing of broken bones in mice, a feat which, if replicated in humans, could mean people with fractures would be free of their casts a lot sooner. HealthDay, 4/28.

Research Breakthroughs
Scientists Learn to 'Knock Out' Worm Genes Biologists at the University of Utah, which helped pioneer the deletion of genes in lab animals, have learned to "knock out" genes in nematode worms. The technique allows researchers to learn what the function of specific genes are. UPI, 4/28.

Pigs Provide Clues on Cystic Fibrosis Lung Disease By studying pigs, scientists are a step closer to understanding how cystic fibrosis (CF) causes lung disease in people with the condition., 4/28.

Fluorescent Compounds Make Tumors Glow Vanderbilt University research team finds out that Fluorocoxib injection into mice could light up tumors as they begin to form, before they turn deadly and signal their transition to aggressive cancers. ScienceDaily, 4/29.

New Rat Study May Help Understand Genetic Basis of Human Hypertension Scientists have sequenced the genome of the spontaneously hypertensive rat, which could help understand causes of the disease in humans. oneindia, 4/29.

The above is typical. Researchers who use animals and their attending chorus in the media tout every animal-based finding as a potential cure.

Nothing else has changed either. Boat in 2010:

[Academic] institutions depend heavily on federal funding for support of biomedical research (65% of total funding), 85% of which is granted by the NIH (10) . (11)

Sharon Begley 2008:

Ask scientists why it takes so long to discover new treatments for disease, effective ways to prevent cancer or dementia, or ways to diminish the allure of jihad, and they point to two culprits (in addition to the fact that this stuff is hard). One is that "translational" research, in which fundamental biological discoveries are put to practical use, just doesn't have the sex appeal of basic science, the kind done in test tubes and lab animals and which yields fundamental new insights into, say, molecular mechanisms of disease. Most of the people who evaluate study proposals for the National Institutes of Health "are basic scientists," notes Daniel Sessler of the Cleveland Clinic. "In basic science, being cutting edge and innovative is what's valued. But in clinical research you'd never take something completely innovative and try it in people." It must have already been proven in animals. "So the answer comes back: this is not innovative enough," he says. Sessler had been stymied in his attempt to get NIH funding for a study of whether the form of anesthesia—regional or general—used during surgery affects long-term cancer survival, something hinted at in animal studies. "More animal studies won't help," he says. "The commitment from the top [of NIH to translational research] is real, but it hasn't filtered down" to scientists who evaluate grant proposals. That's what clinical scientists, who feel like the stepchildren of biomedical research compared with the cool kids who study fruit flies, have long suspected, and last month brought quantitative proof. Analyzing 92,922 NIH grant applications from 2000 to 2004, scientists led by Theodore Kotchen of the Medical College of Wisconsin found that those for research with people got much lower scores, and thus were less likely to be funded, than those for research on cell cultures, animals and the like. "There is still the perception that clinical research doesn't have the cachet of discovering a gene," says Kotchen. But there is another factor, which brings us to the second barrier to research aimed directly at helping people. NIH reviewers look at the proposal and, knowing what they do about the human-subjects panels back at the scientists' universities, figure "this will never pass muster," says Kotchen. They give the proposal too low a score to get funded. (12) (Emphasis added.)

Dr. Rosenberg observed in 2003:

The doubling of the national institutes of health (NIH) budget in recent years, the publication of the initial sequence and analysis of the human genome in 2000 and advances in molecular biology, neuroscience, immunology, biomedical engineering, and functional magnetic resonance imaging suggest that these remarkable achievements in clinical and basic science research are being successfully translated to the clinic and bedside. There is an assumption that the recent exponential growth of scientific information about disease, as evidenced by the substantial increase in the numbers of published articles in biomedical journals, heralds a rapid move to improve human health. This illusion is the subject of an intense analysis begun in June 2000 by the Clinical Research Roundtable (CRR) at the Institute of Medicine, as reported in this issue of THE JOURNAL by Sung et al. . . It is a cause of great concern that despite a substantial investment by the NIH in research, support for basic research far outweighs that for clinical research. The CRR points out that the funding success rate of clinical research proposals is about half that of basic science proposals. Addressing and reversing each "translational block" is the obvious answer, but going from theory to results in practical terms is far more daunting. Today, more than $25 billion is spent on biomedical research annually . . . (13) (Emphasis added.)

But is our estimate that 50&% of all NIH funding goes to animal-based research reasonable? Nathan and Schechter in JAMA. 2006:

In 1995, Harold Varmus, then director of the NIH, became concerned that the NIH was not providing sufficient support for clinical research. He formed a panel of experienced academic leaders who accomplished 3 important goals. First, the panel defined clinical research broadly and estimated that about one third of the NIH extramural budget was devoted to clinical research. That amount seemed reasonable to the panel, considering that much basic research would be expected to be required in such a scientific program because most basic research provides only a small piece of information that, by itself, cannot be used in the clinic without further information. But the panel cautioned the NIH not to let the ratio decrease further. (14) (Emphasis added.)

One-third clinical means two-thirds basic, most of which involves animals. Begley again: “About 30% of NIH's research budget supports clinical research on patients. The rest goes to basic science, from molecules in test tubes to tumors in lab mice.” A report published in 1986 agrees with the above revealing that around 50% of all NIH funding was for research involving mammals. (15) Considering the explosion in research using genetically modified mice over the last decade the amount has definitely not decreased! Finally we come to the individual researcher. There is no doubt that animal-based research is a multibillion dollar business in the US but how much goes to the individual researcher? It is true that when researchers are in their grad school days, they make very little money. The same was true of me when I was in my residency. But for both MDs and PhD scientists that changes after grad school/residency. Salaries vary but suffice it to say each earns a very good livelihood, far in excess of the average American. Perhaps some animal-based researchers who moan abut their meager income would like to share with us their salaries and other reimbursements?

I stand by the following from AFMA’s website:

The animal-based research engine is fueled by the same forces of human nature that have harmed people since the dawn of time: ignorance, greed, ego, self-preservation and fear. Add to that inertia and blind obedience to the system, and you have the perfect formula for keeping this multi-billion-dollar industry thriving.


1. E. Ahrens, The Crisis in Clinical Research: Overcoming Institutional Obstacles. (Oxford University Press, New York, 1992).

2. Random Samples, Science 291, 2547 (2001).

3. Committee on Addressing Career Paths for Clinical Research. (National Academy Press, Bethesda, MD, 1994).

4. J. L. Vaitukaitis, Clin Res 39, 145 (Apr, 1991).

5. U. Congress. (April 12, 1989).

6. R. Smith, BMJ 297, 1149 (November 5, 1988, 1988).

7. E. Pennisi, Science 288, 248 (Apr 14, 2000).

8. R. Moynihan et al., N Engl J Med 342, 1645 (Jun 1, 2000).

9. New Scientist, 19 (June 10, 2000).

10. E. R. Dorsey et al., JAMA 303, 137 (Jan 13).

11. T. F. Boat, JAMA 303, 170 (Jan 13).

12. S. Begley, “Coddling Human Guinea Pigs,” Newsweek, August 18 2008.

13. R. N. Rosenberg, JAMA 289, 1305 (Mar 12, 2003).

14. D. G. Nathan, A. N. Schechter, JAMA 295, 2656 (Jun 14, 2006).

15. Committee on Models for Biomedical Research Board on Basic Biology, Committee on Models for Biomedical Research. Board on Basic Biology. Commission on Life Science. National Research Council. Models for Biomedical Research: A New Perspective. (National Academy Press., Washington, DC, 1985).