Posted: 20 April 2006
Next week, during the international Lab Animal Week (24-30th), thousands of supporters of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) will be hitting the streets with a new leaflet on experiments in UK laboratories, and which criticises lack of funding of new technology which could have averted the recent TGN1412 drug disaster.
Supporters of the NAVS will be wearing their ‘Unlock the Labs’ badges to commemorate the suffering of animals; many will observe a minute’s silence at 12 noon on 24 April, and will be organising fundraising events to save animals and fund non-animal research.
International Lab Animal Week is commemorated all over the world. Every year, an estimated 100 million animals suffer and die in experiments in the world’s laboratories. In secret. For each recorded use of an animal in a laboratory, a further two to three animals have been killed after a miserable short life, simply because they are surplus to requirements. Laboratory animals suffer terribly at every stage of their lives; the law allows the infliction of pain and suffering on animals that would, in other circumstances, be illegal. They live in crowded, factory farm-type conditions. They can be burnt, blinded, scalded, mutilated, poisoned to death or deliberately given disease.
Yet the fundamental flaw of animal research is that each species responds differently to substances, making animal tests unreliable as a way to predict effects in humans. The test drug TGN1412 left human volunteers critically ill and demonstrates just how misleading animal test data can be. The drug had been given in doses 500 times stronger to monkeys without serious adverse effects. But it turned a fit and healthy young man into what was described as the “elephant man”. However it is not uncommon for drugs to fail in human trials after animal tests – around a third fail in the first human trials.
The NAVS has argued that the TGN1412 disaster could have been averted if a new technique called microdosing had been used; this is where ultra-low doses of a drug are given to humans. Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) is a tool of unprecedented sensitivity, which can analyse these ultra-low doses. This replaces animals, avoids the problem of species differences, and is safer for humans. Yet the UK has only one AMS unit.
The new Lab Animal Week leaflet produced by NAVS provides a quick reference to key species differences, for example, the antibiotic penicillin is useful for humans, but is lethal to guinea pigs; the breast cancer drug tamoxifen was originally designed as a contraceptive – it worked in rats but had the opposite effect in women. It is now a successful breast cancer treatment, despite that it caused cancer in rat studies. Also exposed are some horrific UK experiments–
The NAVS spends £300,000 a year on grants to scientists conducting non-animal research, and urges the Government to focus on replacements for animal tests, for the sake of both people and animals.
Click here to find out how you can join in.