Animal research saves lives of both humans and animals

The news release from Johns Hopkins was filled with technical medical terms: transforming growth factor beta, and angiogenesis, and cell receptor type 2. Pathways, and non-muscle cells, and hypertrophy. Didn’t understand a word.

But I kept reading, trying to make some sense of it, because of the headline: “Animal studies reveal new route to treating heart disease.”

Heart disease has hit my husband’s family, so anything that talks about new finds catches my eye. But the research also captured my attention because of the explanation of the animal research that could ultimately lead to new treatments for heart failure or other kinds of heart disease.

Animal research ignites controversy among activists like members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, who charge that we don’t conduct testing on unwilling people, so we need to extend this same concern to other living beings.

I disagree. We all are spared the risks and devastation caused by polio because of vaccine experiments on animals. My friend Dianne and many others live rich lives with a pacemaker because the machine was perfected on animals. Without animal research (mostly rats and mice), we wouldn’t have cures or treatments for other diseases like cystic fibrosis, malaria or muscular dystrophy.

Researchers are also stimulating cartilage regeneration in animals’ joints — meaning they’ve successfully rebuilt a complete shoulder joint using the patient’s own cells. Think about it: Rather than replacing my hip with a metal or ceramic implant, doctors could grow that joint biologically from my own cells.

My dad has Parkinson’s disease. It occurs when brain cells that make a chemical called dopamine waste away. Without dopamine, the brain loses its ability to send messages through the body to control how muscles function. We’re fortunate. Dad’s Parkinson’s manifests itself primarily in hand tremors, which make buttoning a shirt a challenge, but otherwise, he’s a healthy 82-year-old.

A Wisconsin researcher who has dedicated her life to researching Parkinson’s recently discovered that pioglitazone, a well-known treatment for Type II diabetes, could help prevent the loss of dopamine-producing cells. She made this discovery through research with the rhesus monkey. Her work may not help Dad, but since the risk for Parkinson’s is now greater in my family, it could ultimately help me or my children or their grandchildren.

It’s not just humans who are helped by animal research, either.

Understanding a disease in one type of animal can benefit all animals, as well as humans who share that disease. It’s a concept called “one health, one medicine.”

For example, naturally occurring osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, in dogs shares many features of the cancer in people. Timothy Stein, a veterinarian scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is studying bone cancer in dogs, but, he says, “the ultimate goal is to benefit both dogs and humans.”

So those who would decry animal research of any kind are actually hurting future care, health, and treatment of the very animals they proclaim to protect.

It works both ways. A UCLA cardiologist who performs ultrasounds on human hearts as her “day job” gets called examine zoo animals with the same technology.

“We can benefit animals by applying our understanding of human disease to the treatment of animal disease,” explains UCLA Vice Chancellor James Economou.

It’s simple: Animal research saves human and animal lives.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

14 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    None of this is new.

    Calling up revelations and discoveries that have been made in science BEFORE there were alternatives to animal research is 99% moot at this point. To completely ignore that groups like PETA push scientists, teachers and people alike to explore and use these completely viable testing solutions that don’t involve animals is just poor journalism.

    Let’s (read: you) also ignore the fact that PETA spends a lot of their time not just fighting animal research as a whole, but specifically fighting the vast amount of scientific and cosmetic research that is COMPLETELY pointless. Tests that are being done on thousands of rats, bunnys, monkeys and pigs to prove things that have already been covered in perfectly concluded scientific studies from 10-20 years ago.

    The problem with the two arguments of animal research, for or against, is just that – people take grasp one thing in the system they agree with, in your case – heart disease/parkinsons research. What they don’t realize is what they’re supporting when they say animal testing is good. Nor do most people know that really cutting edge, non-animal testing alternatives exist. It’s sad that these people you disagree with are using cold hard facts from NOW, and the future of science, and most people – including yourself in this article are resigned to calling up successes like Polio to support their being pro-vivisection.

    In conclusion, an interesting fact – over 90% of tests done to animals are deemed ‘inconclusive’ in humans because they don’t have the same effect. You know why? Our bodies are different! We’re stabbing into the vast unknown darkness for answer, and killing animals while we do it – all for what? To continue with this antiquated procedure that has worked a handful of times in the past?

    Think about it.

  2. Patrick says:

    Many prominent scientists, supported by a vast amount of research, doubt the value of animal testing. Many of the alleged advances in medical science using animal testing were failures and ended up being harmful to humans even though they were not harmful to animals. Vioxx was tested extensively on monkeys and proven to be beneficial to monkey hearts, but this mistake will cost Merck & Co. $5 billion to settle over 26,600 personal-injury lawsuits. Vioxx is just one example of many.

    In fact, in a USDA press release January 12, 2006, Health & Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said:

    “Currently, nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies.”

    But there is a simpler argument that testing is either morally or scientifically dubious: The animals must be a great deal like us for the results to be scientifically unproblematic, but very different from us in order to be morally unproblematic. When we want scientifically useful results, the more like us they are, the better. When we want clear consciences over causing disease, suffering, and death to innocent creatures, the more like us the animals are, the worse.

    We cannot have it both ways? It is this sort of moral question that researchers never address, except to assume that if humans benefit, then the testing is justified. Of course, that is the very question ethicists are challenging.

  3. Francis says:

    No experiments in monkeys can show a way to stop the loss of dopamine-producing cells because monkeys do not lose dopamine-producing cells. They do not get Parkinson’s disease. A disease can be cured in an animal that does not have the disease. And both the track record of translating lessons from basic science to human benefits and the track record of predicting human response to drugs found to be effective in non-human animals are terrible. Most important, even if experiments on animals helped people, they would not be ethical. You need to learn to how to think about ethical issues more clearly.

  4. KeithC says:

    Susan, great article. I lost my father just late last year due to Parkinson’s. Obviously, none of these people know what that is like otherwise they would not reject research. I know first hand just how devestating the disease is and how helpless you are against it’s effects. I know what it was like to watch week by week as my father went from a hard working man to someone that couldn’t even feed himself. I wouldn’t even wish that kind of disease on those that do not support research. I only wish they understood.

    No one should have to suffer through these kinds of diseases and if humane testing on animals will find a cure, i fully suppport it.

    Susan, I hope your family doesn’t have live through the suffering mine did with Parkinson’s. I wish your family the best and hope a cure can be found soon.

  5. Katherine says:

    The topic of animal research will always be a tough one.

    Humans form emotional attachments to animals which muddy the waters of clear logical thinking when it comes to their usefulness in research and the advancement in improving or maintaining our “quality of life” (physical and mental states).

    While research animals may not equate in physiology to that of a human, until it becomes morally acceptable to carry out research on humans (and I hope we as a society never get to that point), animals are our fall back.

    Yes, there are alternatives to animal research, however an in vitro (in a petri dish) system does not answer all the potential complications that an in vivo (within the animal) system can.

    We will always have persons on either side of the fence when it comes to this issue. Let us agree to disagree peacefully and try to understand where the other party is coming from. Perhaps together we will find more suitable research models.

  6. Patrick says:

    The emotion seems to be on the other side as these comments indicate: people are willing to do anything to help family members who have disease. There is no unbiased examination of the science and as I said above– they never address the moral question…i.e., whether or not it is right to use animals for our own benefit in these ways.

    When animal advocates maintain that animals matter in their own right, that amounts to acknowledging the possibility that something could be beneficial to us, but still morally dubious. There may be advantages we’re not entitled to or that it would be wrong for us to seek out and pursue. If so, there may be hard questions about what we must be prepared to give up. But assuming that human benefit trumps everything is not the answer.

  7. Louise says:

    The diseases that cause most of the illnesses and death (in the US) are chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. And these diseases are most often due to lifestyle choices, which means they are largely preventable.

    The Am. Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and Am. Diabetic Asso. all concur that these diseases are “mostly preventable” — in other words, self-inflicted. And this doesn’t even include the less deadly afflictions.

    People know this, but still refuse to stop smoking, change their diets, lose weight, exercise or make other beneficial lifestyle changes. As members of the instant-gratification generation, they would rather abuse themselves now, and call on doctors later, to treat problems that could have been prevented in the first place.

    The serious ethical question is: why should millions of innocent animals be tortured and sacrificed to find treatments for largely self-inflicted diseases in people who refuse to take responsibility for their own choices?

    Granted, some people make responsible lifestyle choices and still get disease. But if we accept scientists’ estimates that two-thirds of the major diseases are preventable, we could at least significantly reduce animal testing.

    The majority of people with self-inflicted chronic diseases must face the moral dilemma. It should not just be accepted without question that when people are irresponsible, animals can be tormented and sacrificed to save them.

  8. okiestorm1 says:

    Testing on animals to help animals and humans, I see nothing wrong with it.I do see alot wrong with PETA trying to stop it, they do not care about animals, if they did they would not kill 85 percent of the animals they so called rescue.this is a fact, check it out for your self. Oh and cancer and heart problems can’t always be avoided like one person said, they are not always due to bad health habbits.That was just stupid!

  9. Louise says:

    I don’t know why you bring up PETA except as a strawman. I said nothing about Peta. My post was simply about the fact that most disease is caused by lifestyle choices. This is supported by the American Heart Association, The Diabteic Association, and the Am. Cancer Society. You can go to their websites and confirm that these chronic diseases are highly preventable.

    According to the American Cancer Society:

    “Tobacco use, physical inactivity, obesity, and poor nutrition are major preventable causes of cancer and other diseases in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2006, more than 170,000 cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use alone. In addition, scientists estimate that approximately one-third (188, 277) of the 564, 830 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2006 will be related to poor nutrition, physical inactivity, overweight, and obesity.”

    The other major health organizations cite similar estimates.

    Apparently you didn’t read my whole post when you called it stupid, because I clearly stated that:

    “…some people make responsible lifestyle choices and still get disease. But if we accept scientists’ estimates that two-thirds of the major diseases are preventable, we could at least significantly reduce animal testing.”

    Furthermore, just stating that you think it is okay to test on animals for the benefit of humans is question-begging. You have presented no argument in response to the specific ethical question I raised, i.e. why should millions of innocent animals be tortured and sacrificed to find treatments for largely self-inflicted diseases in people who refuse to take responsibility for their own choices?

    As I said, people don’t want to address the ethical questions and the comment on this list demonstrate that.

  10. okiestorm1 says:

    The point I was trying to make is noy all cancer and heart problems are self caused in people.Animals die of cancer and heart problems also,Iam sure they are not self inflicted!I see to sacrifice one for the benifit of thousand of others is not so terrible.Personaly I wish they would not do testing on animals but on child molesters, rapist,murders,and terrorist, those people deserve it.

  11. Tom says:

    @okiestorm1 – at least you’re able to admit that it’s an incredibly cruel practice, but the fact that you’re willing to subject people to torture is pretty terrible. Also, gotta agree with Louise – you’re not presenting anything tangible .. just a bias opinion with nothing to back it up AND you’re name calling.

    PS. Info on PETA not caring about animals.. http://www.peta.org/issues/companion-animals/euthanasia.aspx – do some research and don’t let the CCF dictate how you think.

  12. Francis says:

    Katherine, I do know what I am talking about. My wife has Parkinson’s. I know how Parkinson’s research is done in monkeys. I know that monkeys do not get Parkinson’s disease. I also know that studying non-human animals to learn about human disease provides very few benefits to people. The suffering of those we love does not change that fact. The rational thing to do is not to defend ineffective research but to insist that scientists use research methods that have a higher probability of helping those we love.

    You say that you would not wish Parkinson’s on anyone, yet you do wish it on monkeys, who think, feel, and relate to each other pretty much like you and I do. Causing symptoms of Parkinson’s in monkeys or people or anyone else is one of the most cruel things that I can imagine. But you say it’s OK just because someone close to you had the disease.

    The question about alternatives is a distraction. Since the science is ineffective, other methods are needed. But the main issue is the ethical one. Causing suffering and death to animals because we hope to benefit from it is selfish, cruel, and unethical.

  13. Douw says:

    Well clearly the rat is more evolved so personally I would like to see the rat survive. Humans are stupid.

  14. Zazzy says:

    I want both to survive! There are alternatives to Animal testing. Does the mouse really deserve pain so a person can survive child or adult? Just because an animal can not shout for help or refuse to be treated so badly, does not mean they should have pain inflicted upon them. It is wrong and I want it to end well before 2050! In my eyes people are no better than animals and animals are no better than people.

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