By: Aschille Clarke-Mendes
This newspaper was tested on animals. They didn’t read it.
Originally billed as a debate, “Is animal testing predictive for humans?” became a lecture by Dr Ray Greek, anaesthesiologist and lecturer at the medical schools of University of Wisconsin and Thomas Jefferson University. Before the event, which took place on September 19, the organisers, Stop U of T Animal Research, extended an invitation to U of T’s medical department to take part in the event, only to receive a short, dismissive reply. Perhaps to accept the offer would have been to admit that there could be a substantial inhumane aspect about the practice.
Indeed, you may think so, when images are brought to mind of animals trapped in cages, impaled by test-tubes, or non-consensually under the surgical knife. Questions of ethics aside, animals can be used for a variety of reasons such as to better our understanding of medicine or for organ transplants: pigs’ aorta valves have been proven to work in humans, but then, artificial ones have also done the job. However, the issue of using animals, as Dr Greek attests, begs the question with respect to testing for drug predictive purposes.
This would be just as ethically debatable as abortion, for instance, if the results garnered had any translatable value towards humans’ drug advancement. Sadly, however, there is none, as Dr Greek explained. Reasons for this can be summarised as differing genes from different evolutionary procedures. “There is very little correlation between animals’ test results and those of humans’,” Greek explained, with a wealth of supporting evidence. The chemical make-up and internal processes differ too much to determine if one drug will work on two separate species.
In a study conducted between humans and animals using six different drugs, we shared 22 side effects; animals experienced 48 not found in humans; and humans, 20 not found in animals. This produced a Positive Predictive Value (PPV) of roughly 31 per cent, well shy of the recommended 90 per cent necessary for a drug to go through as clinically acceptable. Further, of the HIV vaccines tested, hundreds have successfully worked on monkeys (our evolutionary brethren) while none have worked on our species. A compilation of 25,000 articles published on animal testing’s predictive value for humans were examined. One (0.004 per cent) came out positive. “There is no translation on cures for Alzheimer’s, brain cancer, spinal-cord injuries and so on,” said Dr Greek, “conclusions can be drawn from animal research, but not predictive for drug and disease response.”
Then why do these tests persist? The committee members that supply medical students grants for research, as Dr Greek explained, have also done animal testing themselves. Greek ran through a series of proposals brought forward to the committees: drugs for face-pain tested on rats, or alcoholism on zebra-fish. “For animal-rights activists, it may be a hard pill to swallow,” said Dr Greek, “but the best people with whom to speak to stop testing, are the pharmaceutical companies.” Even if it were decided that the practice should be stopped, it would take the companies decades to completely phase it out. And what of the alternatives we have available to test new drugs? Human cells can be used at the micro-level, otherwise, medical research has been done on autopsies since time immemorial.
“Stop U of T Animal Research,” advocates these alternatives instead of the current practices. Paul York spearheads the project which began three years ago. “We’re very nonviolent, and all for arguing our case rationally for the public,” said York. The Canadian Council on Animal Care and the Office of Animal Research Ethics at U of T have the same perspective: that the treatment of animals in research is “humane.” “We beg to differ,” said York, “incarcerating them, injecting them with deadly toxins, burning them chemically, doing invasive surgery and the killing and dissecting them is not “humane.” And this represents the majority of experiments done, on many types of species.” And as Dr. Greek would argue, none are predictive for humans in terms of toxicity and drug testing.
You can find the website for the U of T group on facebook.
This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-inside/animal-testing/.