A Look at Modern Scientific Research Methods That Do Not Harm or Kill Animals
Most people believe that experiments on animals are necessary for medicine and science to progress. However, this is not the case. The belief that we must experiment on animals is being challenged by a growing number of physicians and scientists who are utilizing many research methods that do not harm or kill animals. More and more physicians and scientists are also seeing the negative consequences of using one species to provide information about another species; often the results of animal experiments are misleading or even harmful to humans.
So what are non-animal methods of scientific research?
The following biomedical research methods reflect true scientific progress, producing, accurate, predictive and applicable results. They offer real, immediate insight into the effective treatment and prevention of human disease.
In Vitro Research (cell cultures)
Rather than hoping that an animal will respond like a human, in vitro research is conducted in an external, controlled environment, such as a test tube or a petri dish. Because most illnesses do their work at a microscopic level, these experiments make ideal test beds for studying the course of human disease. Not only are in vitro tests more humane than killing animals by exposing them to experiments, but they have been shown to produce more accurate results which correlate from the laboratory to real life as well.
Toxicity tests using human cell cultures are two to three times more accurate than tests on rats and mice.
Penicillin and streptomycin are historical examples of in vitro discovery, and there have been thousands since. Today’s in vitro technology enables researchers to receive accurate information from as many as 100,000 compounds per day.
The major criticism of cell cultures, especially in toxicology but elsewhere as well, is that they are oversimplifications.
That’s where the cell culture analog comes in. A cell culture analog, also known as an “animal-on-a-chip” or a “human-on-a-chip”, is a silicon wafer with reservoirs that represent organs and canals that act as vasculature. Once the reservoirs and canals are lined with cells of the appropriate type, then fluid is pumped through the system so that it flows through the organs in the proper physiological sequence. The method enables an accurate approximation of the physiology of the whole human body.
The applications of CCAs go beyond simple toxicology – they can be used to study drug-drug and organ-organ interactions, as well as to predict disease progression and treatment outcomes. The scientist credited with inventing the CCA concept, Dr. Michael Shuler at Cornell University, is currently pursuing a three-dimensional model as well as a CCA that uses human stem cells. These could be the first steps towards a personalized CCA – a replica of a patient’s unique physiological profile – which would be a crucial tool for personalized medicine.
The observation and analysis of a patient’s condition has always been an important component of medical research. Examples of tell-tale evidence unfolding at the bedside of afflicted patients are innumerable, including the successful treatment of childhood leukemia and thyroid disease, our present level of HIV and AIDS therapies, the discovery of numerous cardiac drugs, and many more.
Though drugs invariably have different effects on humans than animals, hundreds of millions of dollars continue to be poured into irrelevant animal experiments. Clinical research could be greatly expanded if funding for animal studies was redirected to clinical research done by physicians.
Computer and Mathematical Modeling
Computer and mathematical modeling have recently led to new treatments for breast cancer, AIDS, high blood pressure, and aided development of new prosthetics. By mimicking the shape and structure of molecules known to be therapeutic, scientists can improve their design to be even more effective. Similarly, known toxic chemicals can be analyzed to predict toxicity without resorting to unreliable animal testing.
Epidemiology is the study and control of diseases within a human population. Long-term epidemiological studies have linked diet to heart disease, smoking to lung cancer, and identified all known environmental poisons and occupational diseases. By labeling certain habits or substances as dangerous, we can diminish our chances of illness by consciously avoiding exposure to them. Using computers, researchers can now gather and analyze human population data at an unprecedented rate.
Unfortunately, animal experimentation often impedes the ready acceptance of epidemiological evidence. Cigarette smoke, alcohol, asbestos, arsenic and benzene are just a few of the harmful substances that, according to animal tests, are safe for humans to ingest. However, epidemiological research has conclusively proven all of them to be hazardous to humans.
Genetic research, in conjunction with epidemiological evidence, reveals which genes cause humans to be predisposed to hereditary problems such as birth defects, cancer and heart disease. By altering an individual’s DNA composition, scientists may be able to correct abnormal genetic traits. With further exploration, human genetic research has the potential to eliminate cancer and birth defects before birth.
Some scientists now study DNA in animals for the supposed benefit of science, wasting time and money on irrelevant research. This money would be better spent on studying human genetics.
Technological advancements in biological science have forged phenomenal frontiers, and we have yet to tap one iota of their potential. The achievements of physicists, chemists, mathematicians, computer engineers and biotechnical engineers have long since outpaced the archaic methods of animal experimentation.
Breakthroughs in physics have allowed imaging techniques such as CAT, MRI and PET scans. Our ability to understand disease processes has been vastly improved through X-ray crystalography, single molecule spectroscopies, and nuclear magnetic resonance. Ultrasound, blood-gas analysis machines, blood chemistry analysis machines, microscopes, monitoring devices, electrocardiograms, and electroencephalograms all provide windows into the human body without using animals.
Chemistry has contributed greatly to DNA sequencing and gene chips, as well as drug delivery devices, biocompatible materials, and separation/purification methods and many more breakthroughs. Mathematics and computer science have given us the Fast Fourier transformers used in spectroscopy and CAT scans, fast sequence alignment and database methods used in genomics, conformational search and optimization methods used in protein folding, and ecological and population models of disease.
Virtually every disease has either been identified or clarified as a result of autopsies, which often indicate the presence of illness missed by physicians. (Studies show that physicians tend to misdiagnose approximately 10 percent of the time.)
Due to higher costs, autopsies are not conducted as frequently as they once were. However, if autopsies were performed on just one out of five deceased patients, volumes of invaluable information could be retrieved. Several European countries have already diverted funds from animal experiments to autopsies with positive results.
Post-Marketing Drug Surveillance
Post-marketing drug surveillance (PMDS) is a system that allows consumers to report all effects and side effects of a medication after it has been released to the public. This allows health professionals to detect and prevent the dangers of negative drug reactions. In addition, PMDS could also increase the likelihood of finding new uses for existing drugs.
Unfortunately, PMDS is not mandatory, and physicians infrequently report side effects to monitoring agencies. Therefore, it is impossible to compile comprehensive data on the potential negative reactions to a drug. If PMDS was mandatory, valuable information about drugs could be gathered and processed much more quickly. Getting this information sooner would mean many more people spared from dangerous side effects, some of which have proven fatal.