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June 24, 2008

Alternatives in Scientific Research

Humane Society International/Europe

In contrast to product testing, in which some animal use is required by law, there is no law requiring the use of animals to study basic biology, or the pathology and treatment of human illness. Here, animal experiments are a carry-over from the early days of biology and medicine. Increasingly, however, other approaches are proving their worth as alternatives to harmful research on animals. These include the following:

Epidemiological Studies:Comparative studies of human populations allow doctors and scientists to discover the root causes of human diseases and disorders so that preventive action can be taken. The science of epidemiology is based on comparisons, for example, among disease rates in populations with differing levels of exposure to the factor under investigation. The discoveries of the relationships between smoking and cancer, cholesterol and heart disease, high-fat diets and common cancers, and chemical exposures and birth defects derive from epidemiology. Epidemiological investigations also demonstrated the mechanism of transmission of AIDS and virtually every other infectious disease, which in turn showed how these diseases can be prevented.

Clinical Studies:In the course of treating patients, much has been learned about the causes of diseases and disorders. Studies of human patients using sophisticated scanning technology (e.g., MRI, PET and CT) have isolated abnormalities in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and autism.

In Vitro Research: Cell and tissue culture (in vitro) studies are used to screen for anti-cancer, anti-AIDS, and other types of drugs. They have also become the preferred means of producing and testing a number of other pharmaceutical products, including vaccines, antibiotics, and therapeutic proteins. The AIDS virus was isolated in human serum, and in vitro methods are providing new insights into the virus’ effect on human cells. International tissue banks now provide hundreds of different types of human tissue to scientists investigating diabetes, cancer, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma, and more than 50 other human diseases. In vitrogenetic research has isolated specific markers, genes, and proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy, schizophrenia, and other inherited diseases.

Human clinical, epidemiological, and in vitro studies are critical to the advancement of medicine. (Even animal researchers admit they need them, if only to confirm or reject the validity of their own experiments.) However, ethical research with human participants does require a different outlook. Animal researchers artificially induce disease; clinical investigators study people who are already ill or have died. Laboratory scientists want a “research subject” who can be manipulated as desired and killed when convenient; clinicians must do no harm to their patients or study participants. Animal researchers face the ultimate dilemma that their artificially created “animal model” can never fully reflect the human condition; clinical investigators know that the results of their work are directly relevant to people. Unfortunately, however, health charities and government research funding agencies currently devote more funds to animal research than investigations of our own species.

Humane Society International (HSI) Europe has been at the forefront of the campaign to establish a world-leading Centre of Excellence in non-animal research to accelerate the development of more ethical and reliable research methods. In May 2008, HSI co-hosted an event in the European Parliament with the Dr. Hadwen Trust for Humane Research and world-renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall. During the event, HSI presented the Parliament with their joint report, Towards a European Science Without Animal Experiments [PDF] and a petition signed by 150,000 EU citizens.

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