Animal Testing, and Alternatives, as Precursors to Human Trials

This blog is normally about ethical issues in research on human subjects; we don’t normally deal with issues related to the use of animals in research. But this story from The Economist demonstrates an important connection between the two: “Catheter and mouse: Sharing information on failed animal experiments would help both scientists and rats”

IN AN ideal world, people would not test medicines on animals. Such experiments are stressful and sometimes painful for animals, and expensive and time-consuming for people. Yet there are vast gaps in medical knowledge which animal experimentation can help close. People have power over animals, so they use animals to help their own species.

Yet the notion that animal suffering is pitted against human welfare—animal pain against human gain—is too stark. After all, it is in scientists’ interests to treat animals well. If laboratory animals are properly looked after, differences in experimental results are more likely to be down to the science than to the guinea-pigs’ health. Sometimes, numbing animals’ pain makes sense, too. Research has shown that giving pain-relieving drugs to animals that are undergoing experimental surgery may enhance the results, by making the animal’s experience more like a person’s. And some changes in the regulation of scientific research, proposed by the European Commission on May 5th, should further reduce animal suffering and at the same time produce better science….

The story also notes the (indirect) connection to human research. Regulations typically require that new drugs be tested on animals before being tested on humans. Finding alternatives to animal experimentation is desirable, but it also requires that different countries reach agreement on what kinds of alternatives really can make up a satisfactory part of the drug approval process.

Sadly, international agreements on the sale of medical treatments limit the use of alternatives. On April 27th America, Canada, Europe and Japan promised to co-operate on validating alternatives to animal testing. The EU law is another step forward….

The article also has some good things to say about the value of sharing data such that experiments aren’t needlessly duplicated — something that is clearly of interest in the realm of human subjects research, too.

~ by Nancy Walton on May 18, 2009.

One Response to “Animal Testing, and Alternatives, as Precursors to Human Trials”

  1. Sharing data on preclinical animal studies isn’t likely to happen in my opinion.

    Biotech/Pharma companies are currently reluctant to disclose their Phase I human clinical trials because of competitive intelligence concerns (i.e. Merck doesn’t want Pfizer to know everything about their pipeline: what disease areas are being investigated, etc.).

    I seriously doubt that companies would be willing to have the data from industry-sponsored animal testing of potential new compounds or devices be made public.

    On the bright side, many preclinical projects are performed at contract research organizations who specialize in particular animal disease models…so the expertise may be being transferred across projects through these networks.

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