Continuing the thread on past discoveries that used animals, I want to discuss why past breakthroughs that used animals do not validate the animal model. At first glance, this might seem contradictory; after all, if hundreds of important breakthroughs came from using animals, does not that fact speak for itself? Actually, no it does not and here is why.
1. I have discussed how research grant money is allocated in the US. See Basic Science Using Animals II and Money in Animal-Based Research.) But just to recap, it appears that at least 50% of NIH grants go to research that uses sentient animals (Committee on Models for Biomedical Research Board on Basic Biology 1985). Considering the current NIH annual budget is around $30 billion, if one merely totals up the amount of money that has gone to animal-based research just since Nixon declared war on cancer, the amount is staggering. It should come as no surprise that something came out of it.
2. The replacement for animal-based research is often times human tissues and they can be very difficult to obtain. The rules and regulations for using human tissue are complex and, in the opinion of many, designed to limit such use. Many of the breakthroughs that the vested interest groups harp on were obtained using tissues from animals, not intact animals. These findings were then replicated using human tissues. Obviously human tissues could have been used in the first place and the same results obtained.
3. Performing research with intact humans is even more difficult than obtaining tissues. The rules and regulations make such research daunting.
Therefore, regardless of how inefficient and ultimately misleading, given the gross similarities between species and the sheer amount of money thrown at animal-based research, it should come as no surprise that many breakthroughs used animals or animal tissues. This does not mean animals were necessary, just that they were used.
Animal experiments are like playing the lottery. A lot of money goes to animal-based research and a lot of people play the lottery. Yes, people have won the lottery. But most lose and if you are looking for a good way to save or make money, the lottery fails as modality.
Furthermore, the above ignores the fact that the questions science is asking today are very different from when scientists used animals to find traits that are common to all mammals. Today, science is trying to find why a drug will cure a small percentage of the population but leave the rest with the disease. Or, why a disease affects some but not others. That is what personalized medicine is: finding out why you are different from your mom, dad, brother or sister. Medical science is beyond trying to figure out why you are different from a mouse or a monkey. Comparative research (studying the differences between species) is interesting, but not the way to cure cancer.
Of course, the vested interest groups fail to mention the above. Throw some fallacious reasoning into the argument and one quickly gets the idea that animals are predictive for human response to drugs and disease and as such are invaluable for today’s medical researcher.
Committee on Models for Biomedical Research Board on Basic Biology. 1985. Committee on Models for Biomedical Research. Board on Basic Biology. Commission on Life Science. National Research Council. Models for Biomedical Research: A New Perspective. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.