A trauma surgeon responds to the Vice Chancellor’s claims about animal research…

Animal research

I would like to comment on the claims made recently by Vice Chancellor for Research Roberto Peccei in a letter he sent to the faculty, students, and staff of the University of California, Los Angeles (April 30, 2003).

I will recount Mr. Peccei’s claims individually and respond accordingly:

1. Virtually all medical knowledge is derived from research using animals.
This is a blatant and knowingly false statement. Most key discoveries were in fact achieved through clinical research, observation of patients, human autopsy and other in vitro and clinical techniques. In fact, many important medical advances have been delayed because of misleading information derived from animal models.

2. Heart pacemakers, organ transplants, and insulin were dependent on animal research.
Though the first pacemaker was tried in dogs in 1929, the device used today was made possible by the invention of transistors and subsequent miniaturization. It was invented by Rune Elmqvist and was tested and perfected in a human in 1958 in Sweden.

The success of transplantation surgeries is also the result of human studies. Thousands of cats, dogs, pigs and primates have been killed as surgeons practiced moving organs from one creature to another. Despite practice surgeries on animals, the first human operations failed without exception. Only conducting procedures on humans can provide reliable techniques.

Clinical research in 1915 led to the discovery, isolation and application of insulin. In the early 1920s, John Macleod and Frederick Banting received a Nobel Prize for isolating insulin from a dog. According to the British Medical Journal on August 4, 1923, their contribution was not the discovery of insulin, but rather reproducing in a dog lab what had already been demonstrated in humans.

3. Without continued animal research there would be no new antibiotics.
Alexander Fleming discovered the benefits of penicillin by prescribing it to a patient as a last resort, even though it was ineffective in some animals and fatal in others. He said, “How fortunate we didn’t have these animal tests in the 1940s, for penicillin would probably never been granted a license, and possibly the whole field of antibiotics might never have been realized.” The pharmacokinetics of antibiotics in animals differs from humans in absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion.

4. Our hopes for cures for AIDS, cancer, and other devastating diseases depend directly on research using animals.
Billions of dollars have been spent unsuccessfully trying to inflict AIDS on animals over the last twenty years. Virus-induced immunodeficiency syndromes in non-human animals differ markedly from AIDS in viral structure, disease symptoms, and disease progression. Though researchers have succeeded in infecting chimpanzees with HIV, none has progressed to AIDS. Given this inability to produce an adequate animal model, it is clear animal experimentation will not lead to therapies and cures for AIDS.

Animal experiments will also not cure cancer or other diseases. Crucial genetic, molecular, immunologic, and cellular differences between species have prevented animals from being effective models. Dr. Richard Klausner, Director of the National Cancer Institute and quoted in the LA Times Wednesday, May 6, 1998, explains, “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn’t work in humans.”

5. Research programs at all University of California campuses, including UCLA, are regulated by federal law and are under scrutiny of two federal agencies.
No laws truly protect lab animals. The Animal Welfare Act, the primary federal legislation “protecting” animals, does not prevent any experiment based on how painful it may be. With only 73 inspectors for about 10,000 sites, inspections are rare and do not accurately assess a facility’s labs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture admits that nearly half of all facilities violate the law.

On March 13, 2003, the USDA issued an inspection report documenting UCSF’s continued non-compliance with animal welfare law and long-standing deficiencies from inadequate veterinary care, poor training of animal care personnel, and insufficient oversight of animal care and use. It is the 9th time in 5 years that the USDA has cited UCSF for violations of federal law. UCSF is just one of many UC campuses that has failed to comply with the most basic animal welfare laws.

In summary, I am unable to find factually accurate information in the vice chancellor’s letter. It appears to be based on a belief that UCLA faculty, students, and staff will simply accept his pronouncements without much critical thought or investigation.

Jerry W. Vlasak, M.D., F.A.C.S.

Please contact the Primate Freedom Project at UCLA to set up a debate with Dr. Vlasak

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