Maria Slough Investigates Why Animal Testing Has Hit Headlines Again

Animal testing has come into the spotlight again after the government upholds plans to allow facility to breed puppies for laboratories


The Government’s recent decision to uphold its plans to allow a large facility breeding puppies destined for laboratories has put the spotlight firmly on animal testing once more.


East Riding of Yorkshire Council, as well as local residents and anti-vivisectionists also opposed the development, but Communities Secretary Greg Clark gave it the green light, backing an appeal by B&K Universal Group despite over 100,000 people signing a petition against the move.


It will be the second such facility in the UK, and will have the capacity to house almost 400 dogs, as well as ferrets.  Michelle Thew, chief executive, of Cruelty Free International said:  “Cruelty Free International is deeply disappointed by this outcome. The planning application to expand this breeding facility has been an issue of strong public concern as is using dogs in research. This is a sad day for animals and, as a result, thousands of dogs will now be bred at Bantin & Kingman and be supplied to laboratories across Europe to suffer and die in experiments.”


But according to a government spokesman: “The use of animals, including dogs, in research is a vital tool for the development of new medicines and technologies. In order to ensure animals are protected, we have a rigorous regulatory system.”


So how useful are animals in testing medicines destined to treat humans?


Dr Brett Cochrane, is the group head of science at the Dr Hadwen’s Trust, a charity committed to removing animals from tests. He says: “The end goal for the DHT is to fund a large portfolio of research that will benefit human health whilst consigning animal use in medical research to the history books. The DHT have a rigorous peer-reviewed process in place to ensure that only research with the most potential to be effective is funded. This is done using our supporter’s donations in the most beneficial and relevant way to demonstrate that medical research can take place without animal experimentation.


He believes non-animal medical research can further our understanding of human disease. “The DHT is committed to playing a leading role in funding high calibre non animal replacement research where it is most needed and enable the development of safer and more effective drugs.”


Andrew Tyler, director of campaign group Animal Aid, agrees. “One of the aspects that’s hardest to stomach is the Government’s claims the dogs don’t suffer,” he says. “The majority of the animals in this country are used for poisoning tests, with the minority used in disease research. Death is usually the end point for these dogs.


“Tubes are pushed into their stomachs and they are given massive doses of poisonous substances, which means they can end up vomiting, haemorrhaging or even having seizures. Then you have tests where the substance is a vapour, and the dogs are put in an airtight chamber.


“The dogs don’t have access to anything that’s natural – like sunlight – or sustaining. The only human contact they have is during these painful experiments.”


Current Government legislation dictates that before a drug can go to market it has to be tested on animals to demonstrate safety prior to human clinical trials. The DHT’s primary aim is to fund what is known as basic or fundamental biological research, the stage in the process where scientists try to further the understanding of human disease, without testing on animals. Unlike the area of drug development, fundamental biological research does not have to use animals, it simply chooses to.  There is a growing body of scientific literature that is revealing the increasing short comings of relying on animal models for human medical research.


In 1959 the principles of ‘Refinement, Reduction and Replacement’ of animals in medical research, the 3R’s was introduced. Yet how much does this do to impact the number of animals used?  In the name of refinement ‘Grimace’ scales which show photographs of the changes in facial expressions of rats, mice and rabbits as they are subjected to pain in research, are used cage-side in laboratories to assess pain levels. However to ultimately ensure that animals who undoubtedly feel pain and who suffer, are no longer needed it is critical that much more is done to focus on the most important ‘R’ – replacement.


This was seen in the toxicity area of the cosmetic industry because companies knew the ban was coming and they could no longer use animals so there was a real drive and incentive to go beyond investing in developing the replacements, and actively search them out, looking at the problems in a different way.


The Blizard Institute at Queen Mary University is funded by the DHT, and works to find testing alternatives. Scientist Dr John Connelly claims: “Many of the animal models that are currently in use are flawed and incorrect and that is a major problem for human health and drug development because of the potential lack of human relevance. In wound healing the skin of a mouse, traditionally used for this type of research, is very different to that of a human.


“Our skin is quite tight while the skin of a mouse is very loose. From the start the mechanics are so different. A mouse wound heals by contraction of the skin and human cells heal by migration and growth of new tissue (proliferation) over a wound. Animal models do not accurately reflect what happens in humans which supports a strong scientific argument for replacing animals with more sophisticated in vitro models.”


Dr Connelly is working to understand how cells migrate to help identify what goes wrong in a chronic wound. Using micro patterning and working with cells taken from human skin he has created synthetic micro wounds which are activated via a chemical reaction causing the cells to migrate. All the wounds are identical and in any dish there are thousands that can be treated with different drugs or inhibitors and analysed to study the effect on cell migration.


Controllable and tuneable this process is extremely efficient as each dish represents thousands of identical wounds that can simulate thousands of conditions. This high throughput non animal research module which establishes a portfolio of evidence based data, is then published and asks the question: why would we revert back to the mouse now when we have populated this with human cells growing in a more humane way that can potentially help better target the correct drug?


Medical research needs a clear road map to be led by legislation change. This often emotive subject can now be dealt with from a scientific basis. There are alternatives to animal use at the fundamental biological research stage and in the UK better funding would make these more readily available. Present funding to continue this work indicates that from a Government level the problem isn’t really even trying to be tackled.


I asked Dr Cochrane to sum up for me how the consumer at home can help fast track this change.He said: “The development and uptake of animal replacement approaches is growing and this is wonderful news that people can help spread awareness of. The important component now is to build on this momentum. There are still over four million animals being used in the UK each year, and the level of government funding required tomake significant and meaningful change is woefully inadequate. The DHT would be delighted to see the government invest much more heavily in developing animal replacement approaches and ensuring that science continues to drive regulation and not vice versa. Until such time, the DHT and other similar organisations will continue to fund research themselves.


“Each and every year the DHT has to turn down excellent grant applications from around the country that could lead to great benefits for both humans and animal due to lack of funds.


“To emulate human disease in an artificial system is incredibly challenging but with the right mind-set, funding streams and political will we will get there.  The DHT are desperate to accelerate the change that is required. ”


With better, safer drugs -that will ultimately save the NHS some of the 100 million pounds a year that side effects from medicines tested on animals cost them – this issue must be tackled. Not just from a human and ethical perspective but from a scientific one too. Only then will the use of animals in research come to an end.


Animal Testing: Some Facts

  • When you use animals in medical research you have to understand the harm benefits. The Home Office classifies that harm as mild, moderate or severe.
  • Certain procedures are allowed to still happen that are rated as severe by the home office
  • RSPCA challenges/monitors the severity levels in animal research and what they are being used for.
  • A massive 95 per cent of university’s the in the UK have animal testing in their labs on campus.
  • By consenting for samples of your tissues to be taken after surgery or biopsies, or upon your death, you could contribute to medical research that will provide results relevant to people and help save the lives of half a million animals each year who are bred for their tissues.
  • Write to your MP and ask that the government invests more money in replacing animals in medical research.



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