Animal Rights

Nonsense on Newsweek.com

| by Dr Ray Greek

John Ericson wrote an article titled The Price of Killing Off Animal Testing, which was published by Newsweek.com on February 20, 2014.

Ericson begins by stating that: “Each year, more than 25 million animals are used for scientific research in the U.S. More than 90 percent of those are mice . . .” The actual numbers are unknown but a more realistic estimate would be over 100 million. Even a former editor of Scientific American stated that around 100 million genetically modified mice were used annually in the US. (Mukerjee 2004) So anyone or any organization that claims less than that is clearly biased or uninformed.

Ericson goes on to paint a very black and white picture of animal-based research and testing. He cites the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as supporting it and quotes Frankie Trull of the Foundation for Biomedical Research (FBR), as saying the usual: “An immediate end to animal research in the U.S. would be a death sentence for millions of people around the world . . . If you've ever taken antibiotics, had a vaccine, had chemotherapy, an MRI, a blood transfusion, dialysis, an organ transplant, bypass surgery or joint replacement, you have been the beneficiary of research that started with lab animals.” Although these claims are widespread they is also unsupported by a critical examination of the scientific literature along with currently known facts regarding species differences. Moreover it is an example of the fallacy post hoc ergo propter hoc. (See The Strengths and Limits of Animal Models as Illustrated by the Discovery and Development of Antibacterials and Are animal models predictive for humans? for a refutation of some of the above claims. See Trans-Species Modeling Theory for why animals are very poor models for humans.)

Ericson goes on to describe why the elimination of animal-based research would be a blow to “research on neurodegenerative disease” like Alzheimer's disease (AD). This is an odd choice for an example since research with animal models has misled researchers studying AD more often than not. (For example, see Evidence Supports TSMT. See Trans-Species Modeling Theory for a detailed examination of this claim as related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).)

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I wrote the following in the comments section of the article:

Animal-based research and testing originated during a time when creationism was accepted as the norm. Under that paradigm, animals and humans were thought to be more alike than different. Today we know better. Animal testing is a failure from a scientific perspective and animal-based research results in something medically useful only a tiny fraction of the time. For more on why animal experimentation is scientifically nonviable see http://www.futuremedicine.com/doi/pdfplus/10.2217/pme.11.89

The reason animal models fail to be of predictive value for human response to drugs and disease lies in evolution and genetic variability. This variability exists even within the same species, for example monozygotic twins.  An article in Developmental Cell by Spector and Mélanie Eckersley-Maslin et al., (Eckersley-Maslin et al. 2014) reveals new reasons for this. A team from Cold Springs Harbor conducted research, which revealed that “some cells activate only one of their two gene copies during development, altering protein yields and raising new questions.” We have one copy of each gene from each parent. Usually both of these copies are activated. But in some cases it appears that only one copy is activated either in development or later. “Random monoallelic gene expression cuts the amount of a protein by half, suggesting that this type of variability may have significant implications for disease.” The researchers found that “monoallelic gene expression is truly a random process.” Spector stated: “It is not deterministic in any way . . . This significant amount of flexibility and randomness in gene expression is important for adaptation as a species evolves, but it is unclear how it functions in organisms today.”

The above differences in genetic make-up are in addition to differences in mutations like single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and copy number variants (CNVs) and differences in gene regulation and expression, among many others. Just one such difference between species could account for why a disease affects one species differently from another or why one drug affects one human differently from another. Species are defined by thousands of such differences and this is why we can eat chocolate but dogs should not.

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The failures of animal modeling are best demonstrated by intra-human variation. A February 26, 2014, Mayo Clinic press release announces: Mayo Clinic Discovers African-Americans Respond Better to Rubella Vaccine. Scientists compared vaccine responses from Somali Americans and Caucasians and discovered that Somali Americans developed “twice the antibody response to rubella.” A non-Somali, African-American cohort also saw a high response and Hispanic Americans exhibited a low response as did Caucasians.(Haralambieva et al. 2014) Dr. Poland, the chair of a Safety Evaluation Committee for non-rubella vaccine trials being conducted by Merck Research Laboratories stated: “The significance of the findings is that in the future we may be able to create vaccines for specific groups or even individuals based on their genomic and other characteristics . . . That may mean adjusting doses for some or being able to treat larger populations with the same vaccine if the dosage is less.”

Vivisection activists should be concerned that the practice they are defending is based on a creation model of life. But they’re not.

(Photo from CDC and Wikiperia Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rubella_virus_TEM_B82-0203_lores.jpg)

References

Eckersley-Maslin, MÈlanie†A, David Thybert, Jan†H Bergmann, John†C Marioni, Paul Flicek, and David†L Spector. 2014. "Random Monoallelic Gene Expression Increases upon Embryonic Stem Cell Differentiation." Developmental cell 28 (4):351-365. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1534580714000586

Haralambieva, I. H., H. M. Salk, N. D. Lambert, I. G. Ovsyannikova, R. B. Kennedy, N. D. Warner, V. S. Pankratz, and G. A. Poland. 2014. "Associations between race, sex and immune response variations to rubella vaccination in two independent cohorts." Vaccine. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2014.01.090.

Mukerjee, Madhusree. 2004. "Book Review of Speaking for the Animals " Scientific American August:96-7.