National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

Government urged not to use animals in chemical weapons tests.

Posted: 12 April 2018

The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) is urging the UK Government not to subject animals to painful inhalation tests at its new Chemical Weapons Defence Centreat Porton Down. Thousands of animals suffer each year during experiments conducted by the Ministry of Defence (MOD); the NAVS is calling for the new, publicly funded facility to use advanced, human-relevant methods instead.

Jan Creamer, President of the National Anti-Vivisection Society said, “The use of animals in chemical weapons tests is wrong, ethically and scientifically. Unlike advanced alternatives, the results simply cannot provide reliable predictions of how humans will react to harmful substances, hindering medical progress and costing animals’ lives.”

Latest figures (for 2016) show that a total of 2,745 animals were used in MOD experiments, including 116 monkeys, 2,167 mice, 199 rats, 236 guinea pigs and 27 pigs.

Mustard gas was pumped down the throats of 16 anaesthetised pigs and into their lungs. Three animals died before the end of the experiment, two from suffocation after the tube in their throat became obstructed with mucus and tissues; the remaining animals, still under anaesthetic, were killed 12 hours after exposure, their lungs and heart removed. In contrast, the effects of mustard gas has been tested using human lung cells, the model for which can be used to further understand the development of disease caused by exposure to the gas.

Melioidosis, which causes respiratory disease,has been studied in human volunteers and patients to test both the effectiveness of potential vaccines and antibiotic treatments. Unlike humans, the rapid rate of infection prevents marmoset monkeys from producing sufficient white blood cells to fight disease; despite this species difference they have been used for a number of years to study melioidosis.

In one 2016 experiment 40 marmosets were anaesthetised, surgically implanted with a thermometer device and exposed to various strains of the bacteria. Observed for up to three days, the monkeys suffered fever, with some exhibiting severe, extensive disease in the liver, lungs and spleen. At set time points, else when fatal signs of disease, showed, the monkeys were killed and their organs removed for study. Similar symptoms were seen during a 2013 experiment, during which 26 marmosets had recording devices implanted surgically and received daily injections of potential therapies; 16 of the monkeys were also forced to inhale the bacteria in a head-only exposure chamber. All were killed at the end of the experiment.

Marmosets have also been exposed to the pathogen tularaemia during MOD tests. Causing fever and other symptoms, tularaemia is contracted by humans through tick bites and handling infected animals. No animal model has been identified that can respond to infections of tularaemia in the way humans do; researchers have stated that “optimal” models for this and other emerging infections may not exist. During the MOD experiment, the marmosets were forced to inhale the pathogen while in a head-only exposure chamber, inducing the disease and death; some were given an oral drug to assess its effects in combating the disease. Two of the untreated monkeys died on day 4 and 5, with the remaining monkeys killed at the end of the study, 24 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Monkey pox is used as a model for the related human smallpox virus, despite variation in how the viruses react in different species. In one MOD experiment, 24 macaque monkeys were split into groups, given one of four treatments and then exposed to the virus. As they succumbed to the disease, the animals received various vaccine doses and underwent tests including lung imaging and blood withdrawals. The macaques suffered weight loss, depression, shortness of breath and nasal discharge; two remained laying down from the sixth day, one died the following day, the other was killed two days later. Demonstrating the needless use of animals for this and similar studies, a smallpox vaccine had already shown to be “safe and well tolerated in more than 2,400 people including more than 900 immune compromised people”.

Western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV) is a relatively uncommon disease in humans, contracted through mosquito bites or proximity to infected horses. During an MOD experiment, mice were forced to inhale the virus for 10 minutes while physically restrained in tubes. A number of the animals died as a result, while others were killed over a period of two weeks due to the severity of their symptoms. These included shallow breathing, seizures, tremors and an inability to move, even to reach their food. As the virus reached their brain they also displayed spinning, obsessive grooming and twitching behaviours. While exposure to WEEV through inhalation in mice caused acute disease and led to death in 100% of animals, in humans natural exposure causes 3-4% mortality, and in one aerosol exposure case 40% mortality.

As these examples show, the use of animals to model human exposure to harmful agents cannot reliably predict results in humans,due to biological differences. Advanced and human-relevant models of respiratory infection are however available, including the human lung-on-a-chip model, which reproduces the “structural, functional, and mechanical” properties of the human lung and has been used to model respiratory infections including tuberculosis.

Media Contact: Devon Prosser | 020 7630 3344 or 07785 552548 | [email protected]

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