At a time when many scientists are moving away from animal experiments and embracing revolutionary developments in biotechnology, shockingly cruel, outdated, and nonsensical animal experiments continue unabated to test the effects of nicotine.
Fetal Nicotine Experiments
Tiny newborn animals and pregnant mothers, the most fragile and vulnerable of all beings, are subject to crude and archaic experiments to study nicotine’s effect on infant development.
Animal researchers staunchly defend these experiments as necessary for human health. But answers don’t come from animal studies. After decades of animal studies, we still have not properly addressed the problem of smoking during pregnancy. Only education, public health outreach, and prevention programs can address the human behaviors that lead to smoking. Decades of countless animals’ lives and mountains of useless scientific data have gone up in smoke because of this futile – and very costly– method of addicting animals to nicotine.
Millions of dollars up in smoke
Since 2002, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has spent $16.5 million to conduct nicotine experiments on pregnant and newborn animals. This appalling figure does not reflect the total cost of all nicotine research on animals, but only that which focuses on nicotine’s effect on fetal and newborn development.
Animals don’t smoke voluntarily
Unlike human clinical studies, in which smokers volunteer to take part in a study, animals do not ingest tobacco or nicotine voluntarily. Countless animal experimenters have contrived a myriad of ways to force animals to consume nicotine. Animals are locked into smoking chambers, pumped with daily nicotine injections, or have it put into their sole source of drinking water, forcing them to swallow it or die of thirst. Intravenous catheters are surgically implanted and kept in place with harnesses. The animal is then tethered by IV tubing till the end of the experiment, which often ends in death. Newborns are force fed nicotine dissolved in baby formula. Some have tubes implanted into their stomachs.
This isn’t past history. It’s happening right now, at universities across America
- At Georgetown University School of Medicine, veteran animal researcher David Mendelowitz conducts nicotine experiments on pregnant and newborn rats. In his lab, pregnant rats are implanted with intravenous catheters and pumped with nicotine. After birth, the newborn rat pups have their chests cut open and their hearts injected with a dye. A few days later their necks are broken under anesthesia and their brains are dissected to see what effect the nicotine had on their development.
- At Oregon Health and Science University, Elliot Spindel conducts experiments on female monkeys who are impregnated and subjected to multiple surgeries to implant nicotine pumps in their backs. Steady doses of nicotine are delivered to the pregnant monkeys, and their babies are cut out of their wombs at various stages of development in order to dissect their lungs. Spindel began his nicotine research in 1992.
- Researcher Kent Pinkerton at University of California, Davis, subjects pregnant rhesus monkeys to a specially built smoking chamber where they are forced to inhale cigarette smoke for six hours each day, five days a week. When the infants are ten weeks old, they are killed by lethal injection and their lungs are dissected for analysis. Pinkerton also killed newborn mice to study tobacco’s effect on oral disease. Pregnant mice were subjected to whole body exposure of tobacco smoke using the TE-10 smoking machine: Other pregnant mice were fed nicotine in their drinking water. Newborn mouse pups were then killed to examine their oral tissue. Pinkerton has subjected monkeys, mice, rats, and guinea pigs to cigarette smoke, ozone, asbestos, and other air pollutants since 1982.
- At Texas A&M University, Ursula Winzer-Serhan forces baby rats to consume nicotine mixed with baby formula at the equivalent of three packs of cigarettes a day. After about a week of being fed nicotine, the babies are killed by decapitation and their brains are dissected for analysis. Winzer-Serhan has pursued this type of research for at least the past ten years. Though she touts her method as superior in “mimicking a more natural situation,” there doesn’t seem to be anything natural about this process at all. Oral-gastric intubation, the method used by Winzer-Serhan, has been documented in studies by other researchers to cause serious distress and pose multiple complications for animals. The list of problems is extensive and serious, and includes accidental tracheal administration, reflux, aspiration pneumonia, edematous lungs, gastric distention, esophageal perforation, and even death.
- Paul R. Pentel at the University of Minnesota published his first paper on nicotine’s effects on animals in 1994. In 2005, Pentel received a special grant of $155,000 from the National Institute of Drug Abuse to set up a smoke inhalation system “to generate cigarette smoke which can be used for the direct exposure of experimental animals to tobacco smoke.”
Flawed animal experiments lead to flawed results
Nicotine experiments on animals provide contradictory and conflicting results and have even failed to reliably replicate what we already know from human studies. For example, though it is widely recognized that maternal smoking in women is linked to low birth weight in babies, animal studies attempting to confirm this have produced varying results.
In people, smoking during pregnancy has unmistakably been linked to low birth weight, greater infant mortality, and the heart-breaking condition known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). In fact, everything that we know about the effects of maternal smoking comes from human data.
The fact is, we cannot learn about nicotine’s effects in humans by studying animals, for many reasons. Stress due to laboratory procedures is one very significant problem with animal experiments. Repeated injections, implanted catheters, and smoking chambers all impose stress on the pregnant mothers, leading to release of stress hormones that influence the developing fetus. Even attempts to put nicotine into drinking water produce stress, since nicotine has a distinctly bitter taste. Animals may then avoid drinking, leading to dehydration, further physiological stress, and other unidentified burdens on the developing fetus. Ironically, animal research is often defended for providing a “controlled” environment, yet that environment is in fact significantly uncontrolled in ways that are often unforeseen and unpredictable.
Perhaps the most important reason that animal experiments fail is that species-specific characteristics will always vary from humans to animals, causing results that are inaccurate, ambiguous, and unsafe for human health.
Even the use of genetically-modified animals has failed to circumvent this key distinction. Scientists have tried to create a transgenic mouse to act as a “model” for human SIDS. Although the mouse “model” exhibited problems with the brain’s nicotine receptors, human infant postmortem studies have shown that nicotine receptor binding is not abnormal in these human babies.
Once again, human studies have provided the basis for our understanding of this tragic malfunction. Conversely, the animal studies have failed to accurately model the human condition, and should be eliminated.
“The strongest clues for the pathogenesis of SIDS arise from receptor binding studies performed on the brainstems of infants who have died of SIDS.”
-E. Nattie and H. Kinney. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 2002.
The way forward
Human use of tobacco is a complex behavior, shown to be linked to a whole range of genetic and environmental factors that include socio-economic status, age, education level, IQ, accompanying drug and alcohol use, and the presence of other behavioral problems such as anxiety or depression.
These uniquely human factors associated with smoking clearly discredit using animals to study nicotine exposure and addiction.
Decades of nicotine research has tortured and killed countless animals, yielding little to nothing that is of benefit to humans.
Vast numbers of animals continue to suffer and die in cruel and harrowing experiments, and millions of dollars continue to be wasted, which should otherwise be directed to public education and prevention programs.
This is the only effective way to address the problem of nicotine addiction. Never-ending animal experiments only continue to waste precious resources and sentient animals’ lives.