WASHINGTON, DC – On December 7, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-PA) hosted a Congressional Briefing with actress Edie Falco of “Sopranos” and Nurse Jackie fame and PETA neuroscientists (Science Advancement & Outreach) Dr. Katherine Roe and Dr. Emily Trunnell. I also interviewed Roe and Trunnell separately.
Currently, there are no cures or adequate treatments for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, sepsis, cancer, mental illness, HIV and diabetes. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest global funder of biomedical research, spent $370 billion in the last decade, with more than half into failing animal experiments. Roe says, “We have wasted nearly $178 billion on animal experiments that do not work.”
Low Translation Rates From Animals To Humans
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The NIH admits that 95% of new drugs that are tested safe and effective in animals go on to fail, or even worse, cause harm to humans, with a 100% failure rate for sepsis, stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer treatments, or an HIV vaccine. 89% of experiments cannot be reproduced.
The problem is a lack of translation: we are simply different species. Drugs TGNI-412 and Vioxx caused deaths, organ failure and heart attacks that were missed by initial animal tests. Conversely, penicillin, dangerous to animals, has saved millions of human lives.
“Success has nothing to do with whether or not your research develops a new treatment or cure. All researchers have to worry about is whether or not their data gets published or if they get grant money,” says Roe. This short sightedness in science, relying on published glory versus real-life results, is a pervasive problem.
Gut-Wrenching Beagle Sandflies Torture: Ultimately Ineffective In Furthering Science
Actress Edie Falco stated, “it adds insult to injury when you learn that [all this torture doesn’t] amount to anything even remotely resembling scientific progress.”
“Beagles, as a breed, were chosen because they are docile and easy to work with. You can ask the same question: why rats, why guinea pigs? The ultimate answer is never about science. It’s never that these particular species are better for studying this disease or condition. It’s 100% convenience,” Roe says. This has also created a cottage industry of breeders. “There are people making tons of money, breeding these dogs for nothing else, and to send them to laboratories where they are tortured and eventually killed.”
PETA’s “Research Modernization Deal” Solution
Research Modernization Deal (RMD) is PETA’s practical and common-sense based solution. It proposes a transition from ineffective animal experimentation to modern, human-relevant biomedical research. RMD has been endorsed by the National Medical Association and the National Hispanic Medical Association, which together represent 100,000 licensed US physicians.
Two physicians that support the research modernization deal spoke at the Congressional Briefing. Dr. Patrice Green, an internal medicine physician, said “It’s not until you read the fine print that you realize that many of these so-called breakthroughs have only been tested on mice or other animals and will have little to no chance of translating successfully to humans.”
Californian Dr. James Yahr, retired Chief of Plastic Surgery, said, “[We have] an exciting new menu of human based technologies, like organs on chips, three dimensional models of human tissue, bioinformatics, and more. I hope officials like you who set policies and those who approved grant applications and sign checks, take notice and implement changes.”.
Trunnell empathetically understands, “For the biomedical research community to make this big of a change, it’s going to happen in a stepwise fashion”. Here are the steps she outlined:
- Stop doing what doesn’t work. Immediately eliminate animal use in areas where animals have demonstrated to be “poor models” of humans and where their use has impeded scientific progress.
- Before we breed, research, hurt, torture and euthanize an animal, there should be a burden of proof that this is important. This mechanism sadly doesn’t even exist.
- Decrease funds for animal studies and increase funds for non-animal studies.
- Conduct critical scientific reviews of previous animal studies to identify areas where you can end the use of animals.
- This involves incentivizing non-animal research, which will lead to less grants from the federal government to fund torture. This naturally moves people to find ways to avoid using animals.
- Implement an ethical harm-benefit analysis system (similar to an existing mechanism we have for human testing)
- This already happens in the UK where there is an error or oversight committee that weighs the harm to animals against the potential benefit of research. This is not done in the US, but can be easily implemented.
- Harmonize and promote international acceptance of non-animal testing methods for regulatory toxicity testing requirements.
Already, the EPA has announced a plan to phase out mammal testing by 2035 and the FDA Modernization Act would eliminate antiquated requirements for animal testing in the name of “safety”. NIH remains stuck and unresponsive, attributing the evidence that the beagles and sandflies study was funded by government grants, as a “clerical error”.
This push has garnered support from Congressional lead, Representative Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina) and is currently under review for a Democratic co-lead. The goal is to get some more signatories. If interested, email email@example.com and visit peta.org/rmd/ to push representatives to work with elected officials and encourage NIH to change their practices.
PETA is also pressuring President Biden to appoint the best NIH director possible. The Senate has to approve whoever President Biden appoints, so reaching out to your Senators is impactful in this process to replace Francis Collins.
If you’re concerned about animal welfare, about cost effectiveness of research, or about human health in general, get involved. Thankfully, progress has been made as cosmetic companies have moved away from animal tests. The problem has not been fully solved: now it’s NIH and the government’s turn.