For decades, America's National Cancer Institute (NCI) has used animals in the search for new drugs. Tens of thousands of chemicals have been assessed in mice given leukemia but the method has proved highly inefficient. One scientist estimates that for every 30-40 drugs effective in treating mice with cancer, only one will work in people,(1) which suggests that during clinical trials many cancer patients will be exposed to the severe toxicity of anticancer drugs without any corresponding benefit. During the 1980s, researchers acknowledged that the NCl’s traditional approach was failing to identify promising new treatments against any of the main cancers.(2,3)
In the new strategy, mice have been replaced by test-tube studies with human cancer cells, at least for preliminary experiments. Drugs showing promising activity are then subject to further animal tests so there is still the risk of misleading predictions.(4) As an alternative, drugs could be further assessed using fresh human tumour tissue from biopsies or therapeutic operations.(5) Results would then be directly relevant to people.(4)
1) D.D.Von Hoff, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1979, August I0, 503.
2) R.Kolberg, Journal of NIH Research, 1990, vol.2, 82-84.
3) A.Pihl, lnternational Journal of Cancer, 1986, vol.37, 1-5.
4) S.E.Salmon, Cloning of Human Tumor Stem Cells (Alan Liss, 1980).
5) C.W.Taylor et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1992, vol.84, 489-494.
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