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J R Soc Med. 2002 August; 95(8): 425.
PMCID: PMC1279977

Animal experiments and the doctor

Professor Vallance's editorial (June 2002 JRSM1) will be considered by most of your readers to be a well-balanced discussion on the use of animals in research. I too would agree with most of this article, were it not for the fact that I was trained as a veterinary surgeon who is acutely aware of the concept of species differences, not only between horses and canaries, but also between mice and men. However, most of my knowledge on the subject is the result of private research. I therefore believe that the reason ‘the medical profession as a whole has remained rather quiet’ is simply that most doctors have not made an in-depth study of the subject at hand. Most doctors do not know that the chimpanzees (our closest living relatives, with whom we share 98.4% of our DNA) are resistant to HIV, hepatitis B and common malaria. Similarly, most are not aware of the fact that humans are the only mammals who lack sialic acid on their cell surfaces, which represents a major obstacle to xenotransplantation (animal to human organ transplants), in addition to the other risks inherent in such transplants2.

The 3 Rs approach (replacement, reduction and refinement) is already out of date. This approach represents the old science of empiricism, based largely on experimentation and observation. The past 15-20 years have produced something of a scientific revolution, in terms of exact science. Is it really still necessary to perform toxic risk assessment on rodents and dogs, when we can observe the damaging effects of a chemical substance in human cell culture, at the molecular level?

The elucidation of the human genome clearly underlines the physiological differences between human individuals, let alone those between humans and animals. The way forward is individualized medicine, where patients will receive medication based on their genetic profile, thereby reducing the risk of adverse drug reactions which now rank as the fourth leading cause of death in western hospitals3. It should of course be noted that the medical drugs which are responsible for this virtual epidemic of adverse drug reactions were all thoroughly tested on laboratory animals, as is required by law. Does this sad statistic not say something about our regulatory system?

References

1. Vallance P. Animal experiments and the doctor. J R Soc Med 2002;95: 277. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Gagneux P, Varki A. Genetic differences between humans and great apes. Molec Phylogenetics and Evolution 2001;18: 2-13 [PubMed]
3. Lazarou J, Pomeranz BH, Corey PN. Incidence of adverse drug reactions in hospitalized patients. JAMA 1998;279: 1200-5 [PubMed]

Articles from Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine are provided here courtesy of Royal Society of Medicine Press