Rabbit Advocacy Animal Matters
Are the lab rat's days numbered?
More accuracy seen in living cell stand-ins for human organs
Bioengineers are striving to topple a scientific icon: the lowly lab mouse. And to replace bunnies, beagles, and other warm-blooded animals with insentient but biologically sophisticated substitutes.
At Brown University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other research centers, new efforts to build complex living "microtissues" from cultured cells represent some of the most promising progress toward reducing the need for laboratory creatures.
Numbers have been reduced in recent decades, but hundreds of thousands of mice, rats, chickens, and other creatures are still employed for medical experiments. More controversially, but also in greater numbers and with less oversight, millions of animals worldwide are sacrificed for testing of products whose only aim is to impart a sexier sheen on lips or more sparkle in toilet bowls.
The feud between animal rights activists and researchers is among the bitterest in science. But many researchers - although adamant that animal research remains critical to finding cures and expanding medical knowledge - have come to concede that using creatures as human stand-ins is unnecessary for many procedures. Indeed, it often isn't even the best science: New drugs that show great promise in mice, for example, often confer zero benefit to humans, or even prove harmful. Plus, animals are messy, require feeding and constant care, draw protests, and, yes, can be a bit smelly.
"There's a serious effort afoot to find ways to phase out animal testing in research," said Jeffrey R. Morgan, professor of medical science and engineering at Brown University in Providence.
Morgan leads a team that is building three-dimensional assemblages of living cells as a step toward fashioning functional simulations of human organs.
For Morgan and other bioengineers, the big dream is that their labs might someday yield crops of transplant-ready livers, kidneys, and other vital parts. In the shorter term, however, the ambitious experiments ongoing at scores of major universities worldwide could produce complex tissues better suited for testing new medicines and procedures.
"There is a need for tissue models that more closely mimic natural tissue inside the body in terms of function and architecture," Morgan said. Unlike the thin, single-layer tissue cultures in common use today, more complicated 3-D structures will consist of cells taking form from each other - not just the petri dish or some other human-made lattice - and containing blood vessels and other features of true organs.
Morgan's team recently scored an advance, detailed in this month's issue of the journal Biotechnology and Bioengineering, by forging three-dimensional freestanding cellular structures from "building blocks" of living cells. The microtissue was cultured from human surgical waste - neonatal foreskins, circumcised from newborns - and from rats' livers.
"From small spheres of cells, we were able to build a more complex, honey-comb pattern," said Adam P. Rago, one of the researchers. "Cells that build themselves on other cells alone . . . work more like cells in the body." The Brown work is partly funded by the International Foundation for Ethical Research, an animal rights group that believes supporting scientific effort - as opposed to mounting protests or issuing angry proclamations - is the most effective way to reduce scientific and commercial dependence on lab animals.
"We want to end needless suffering by sentient creatures, yes" said Peggy Cunniff, president of the Chicago-based foundation. "We also want to advance science. We don't think saving mice is more important than saving humans. But there is obvious over-reliance on animals. Animals are often poor [test] predictors for humans."
Other scientists are making different assaults on the same Everest.
Linda G. Griffith, professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation's famous "genius" grant, is developing a "liver chip," a computer chip embedded in lab-cultured liver tissue.
The cells should behave like normal human liver tissue, reacting to medicines or potential toxins as in a real liver - but with the chip conveying to scientists with high precision how, physiologically, the cells react to new drugs or other experiments.
Griffith's eventual aim is to build a "body on the bench," a full set of chip-containing human organs - from bladder to lungs - that could be used to study body functions by simply plugging the appropriate part into a computer.
The MIT research is meant to advance human medicine. "But my work is also squarely in the realm of finding alternatives to animals," Griffith said. "Beyond any moral issues with the use of animals in research and development, alternatives made with human cells might be scientifically better choices - and more economically feasible."
Replacing animals with human tissue has already proven to be good business bet.
MatTek Corp., of Ashland, makes kits of cultured "skin tissue equivalent" for use in testing of commercial products and in medical labs where researchers need to know how human skin will respond to chemicals or treatments.
In a milestone for the company, a European regulatory body recently "validated" MatTek's Modified Epiderm Skin Irritation Test as an accurate and reliable replacement for animal testing. That's perfect timing: This month, the European Union - which, according to nearly all observers, has much more aggressively sought to reduce use of lab animals than the United States - launches a full ban on use of animals in testing cosmetics.
Culturing skin equivalents in a petri dish is not as scientifically complicated as orchestrating cells into functioning 3-D organs. But MatTek's skin points to the future for product testing and some areas of medical research.
"It started out not wanting to hurt bunnies," said Dave Ingalls, spokesman for MatTek. "But we've found that using [human equivalent] tissue is better science, more cost effective, and much more accurate than doing the same tests on animals."
EU Phases Out Animal Testing for Cosmetics
Animal lovers and campaigners are celebrating the enforcement of the first stage of the European Union’s ban on using animals to test cosmetics. Wednesday 11th March marks the banning of cosmetics testing on animals within the European Union, potentially saving thousands of animals from appalling suffering every year.
The ban makes it illegal to test on animals for skin and eye irritancy, sensitivity to light, corrosivity, absorption through the skin and genetic and acute toxicity, whether or not there are alternatives available.
It also means that cosmetics with ingredients that have been tested on animals can’t be imported.
The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BAUV), who’s been working on this cause is excited, but says there’s still work to be done.
According to their website, they’re going to continue with a global campaign, which includes working with the US Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, to ensure that the leaping bunny remains the global standard for cruelty-free cosmetics across Europe, the US and Canada.
The next step in the ban won’t come until 2013, when eight more tests for toxicity and long term effects are added.
Although animal testing for cosmetics has effectively been banned in the UK for some years, it still remains perfectly legal to test household products and their ingredients on animals. Following the cross party support of 219 MPs, the BUAV is currently campaigning for an end to this cruel and unnecessary practice too.
April 16, 2009
From: Carmina Gooch
To: Dr. Clement Gauthier, CCAC
Re: Eliminating Animal Experimentation
Dear Dr. Gauthier,
It is extremely disheartening in this day and age that animal experimentation is still taking place. Animals and people are different in the way their bodies work and in their response to drugs and disease. It has been widely reported by the media that cancer rates have increased in Canada, and that after many decades of research we still don't have a cure for humans. According to Dr. Richard Klausner of the National Cancer Institute mice have been cured of cancer for years, but this hasn't been of benefit to humans.
There are many other non-animal research methods that can be employed, such as in vitro cell culture techniques, genomics, computer-modelling, and epidemiological studies.
While understanding that Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction are the guiding principles pertaining to the care and use of animals in scientific research, it's time to eliminate this outdated and cruel practice altogether. Multitudes upon multitudes of animals suffer and die on a daily basis, and for what? It's shameful and morally repugnant that in Canada, and here in B.C. that experimentation is taking place at institutions like UBC, VGH, St. Paul's Hospital, and BC Children's Hospital.
Vivisection has been described as medical fraud, with thousands of doctors opposing it, and books like Slaughter of the Innocent, by Hans Reusch, exposing the wrongs and uselessness of vivisection. Dr. G. Dettman writes that "There is no way in the world to extrapolate animals to human circumstance. Animal research is cruel to the animal, dangerous to the public and misleading to the scientist."
I look forward to your response.
April 17, 2009
Dear Ms Gooch:
Thank you for your message expressing concern for animals currently used to train medical personnel in specialized surgical techniques.
The alleged violations of the CCAC guidelines on: animal protocol review (1997) by the Trauma Services Unit of the Vancouver General Hospital have been brought to our attention by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a letter dated March 13, 2008. A formal inquiry was performed in the following week by the CCAC assessment directors who led the most recent visit to the institution. You will find attached our March 25, 2008 response to PETA detailing the results of our inquiry.
The CCAC oversees the use of animals in science based on the principles of the Three Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement). These principles require investigators and course leaders to use non-animal methods whenever possible, and where animal use is judged to be necessary to minimize the potential for any pain and distress.
In Canada, the use of any animal for scientific purposes must be approved by a local animal care committee, following an ethical review of the proposed study. For animals used in teaching or training, this requires assurance that the proposed exercise has sound pedagogical merit.
In the case of trauma surgery skills training, the use of simulation models has significantly reduced the number of animals used to train surgeons. Where animals continue to be used, this is because there is sufficient evidence that the use of an animal will result in a significant improvement in competency of the trainee. These surgeons are undergoing postgraduate training to carry out complex techniques, with potential grave consequences for human trauma victims. In addition, where animals are used for these exercises, they are sedated, anesthetized and then euthanized under careful veterinary supervision, to ensure that they do not experience pain or distress at any time during the training exercise.
At a national level, the CCAC reviews the use of animals for research, teaching and testing, as part of guidelines development. Your concerns for the use of animals for training surgeons is appreciated and will continue to be part of the discussion in the development of new guidance.
In addition, the CCAC Three Rs Program is working to ensure that resources are available to investigators, course leaders and animal care committee members to help fully implement replacement, reduction and refinement alternatives. Our new microsite was launched on October 16, 2008, and I invite you to review it and provide us with feedback and with any other additional resources that you consider would assist in training our surgeons.
May 7, 2009
Dear Prime Minister Harper:
I am outraged that my tax dollars can be directed toward "scientific" experiments on animals. Every day in Canada, non-human primates, fish, mice, dogs, rabbits, and other animals exploited for research purposes endure terrible suffering and death. Animal research is fundamentally cruel, unethical, unnecessary, unreliable, and outdated.
Animals and people are different in the way their bodies work and in their response to drugs and disease. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that findings from animals cannot be reliably extrapolated to humans. Yale University's Dr. David Katz writes, "Extrapolation from rodent research to outcomes in people is notoriously uncertain and fraught with danger. Basic science studies and animal experiments have resulted over the years in headlines about cures for cancer, a definitive obesity gene, and effective AIDS vaccines, to name a few. None of these has yet to materialize, and early hyperbole in each case gave way to disappointment." Dr. Richard Klausner of the National Cancer Institute reports that "mice have been cured of cancer for years, but this hasn't been of benefit to humans."
There are many reliable, less expensive, and ethical non-animal research methods that should be implemented, such as in vitro cell culture techniques, genomics, computer -modelling, and epidemiological studies. Dissecting, burning, blinding, infecting or otherwise inflicting pain and/or distress on animals cannot be justified or tolerated in today's society.
Pharmagene Laboratories in Royston, England has rejected all animal studies because they are unnecessary and outdated. As of 2009, the European Union no longer allows the sale of cosmetics containing animal-tested ingredients. By 2013, no product safety testing on animals will be permitted. I urge the Canadian government to follow suit.
The Canadian Council on Animal Care's statistics on animal use data in 2006 states that 2, 535, 989 animals were used in research, teaching, testing and production (of animals and biologics for scientific purposes), an increase of 8.7% over 2005. While there was a decrease in 2007, it wasn't significant and in keeping with the guiding principles of Replacement, Refinement, and Reduction pertaining to the care and use of animals in scientific research.
Vivisection has been described as a medical fraud, with thousands of doctors worldwide opposing it, and books like Slaughter of the Innocent, by Hans Reusch, and Animal Research Takes Lives - Humans and Animals Both Suffer, by Bette Overell, exposing the wrongs and uselessness of the vivisection industry. Dr. G. Dettman describes animal research as "cruel to the animal, dangerous to the public, and misleading to the scientist."
I ask that the government not use my tax dollars to support bad science, but instead support the phasing out of sentient creatures in all research.
By mail and e-mail.
Dear Ms. Gooch:
The office of the Prime Minister has forwarded to me a copy of your correspondence of May 7, 2009, concerning animal testing in Canada.
Government regulations in Canada and the United States require that all drugs, vaccines and other compounds intended for human use be tested on at least one species of vertebrate animal, since these animals’ physiology and biochemistry are, in most instances, very similar to that of humans. However, in many biomedical experiments, individual cells and cell lines are used to test certain treatments, drugs and vaccines, thereby reducing the number of vertebrate animals used.
The use of vertebrate animals is governed by strict rules and regulations determined by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). Created in 1967, the CCAC oversees animal research and testing in Canada, sets guidelines to ensure that animals are treated in a humane and ethical manner, and requires that each institution establish an animal care committee with the mandate to review and approve any animal-based research protocol. The CCAC strictly regulates how many animals are used, the manner in which they are used, and the precautions that must be employed when using them; their overarching principle is to reduce the number of animals that are used and replace them with alternatives, such as cell lines.
All research performed on animals at Health Canada facilities is governed by the CCAC. The Department continues to retain its CCAC Certificate of Good Animal Practice, and takes great care to ensure that the use of animals in research is limited to a necessary level to address relevant health issues in Canada and is conducted with careful consideration for the humane treatment of the animals involved. Such research is subject to the scrutiny and approval of our institutional animal care committee, operating in compliance with CCAC guidelines.
Sincerely, Leona Aglukkaq
January 3, 2014 New cosmetic test uses protozoa instead of rabbits