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27/04/2015

Animal tests under fire in The Guardian

Animal tests under fire in The Guardian

This month has seen tests on animals coming under fire in the Guardian from two different sides of the scientific community.

One side has criticised animal tests for being ‘underpowered’ i.e. not using the right number of animals such that results can’t be trusted,[1] while another group has criticised using mice as substitutes for humans when studying diseases.[2]

Last week the Guardian reported on efforts by some members of the scientific community to make sure that animal tests are properly conducted and reported. A guidance document was published in 2013[3] that sets out funders’ expectations for conducting and reporting research using animals. But the UK Research Councils have only just updated their online submission form to make it clear to researchers how to apply the guidelines.[4] To make matters worse, reports in the media suggest that more rather than less animals should be used to make the results more ‘translatable’.[5]

But will using more animals make the results more reliable? Probably not. As shown in an earlier Guardian article[6], there are serious concerns about the validity of using animals to test human drugs. The issue comes down to the fact that there are significant differences between species in how they respond to disease. The article highlighted recent findings of poor translation of tests on mice for human diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and septicaemia[7] underpinned by huge genetic differences[8]

In terms of TB, mice do not cough and the disease is not contagious to them.  Also, because their immune systems deal differently with the TB bacteria than us, mice cannot carry the latent form of the disease and all mice infected with TB will eventually succumb.  Dr. Clifton Barry, a (TB) researcher at the US National Institute of Health, expressed his frustration after the recent failure of three TB drugs that ‘worked’ in mice[9]: “this setback was foreseeable, like all the others we’ve seen in the past 40 years involving tuberculosis and mice […] it’s a complete mistake to think they represent a good model of human disease.” [10]

The BUAV has previously complained about the poor reporting of animal research[11] and is campaigning for greater transparency. However we believe that improving the conduct of animal tests and reporting is not the answer- animal tests are irrelevant and unethical. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear no matter how nicely you dress it up.

 



[1] http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/apr/18/animal-lives-wasted-in-drugs-safety-tests

[3] ’Responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research’. NC3Rs and the Research Councils report.

[4] http://www.mrc.ac.uk/news-events/news/updated-rcuk-guidance-for-funding-applications-involving-animal-research/

[5] http://www.nature.com/news/uk-funders-demand-strong-statistics-for-animal-studies-1.17318

[7] http://www.buav.org/article/1227/mouse-models-found-to-poorly-mimic-human-disease

[8] http://www.buav.org/science-blog/1694/new-study-reveals-key-differences-between-mice-and-men

[9] Shortening Treatment for Tuberculosis — Back to Basics. Editorial. New England Journal of Medicine 2015, 1642-3.

[10] http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/mar/20/mice-clinical-trials-human-disease

[11] Reporting the implementation of the 3Rs in European primate and mouse research papers, see http://www.buav.org/humane-science/science-reports/

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