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International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals

Alternative Strategies to Animal research and Testing

8: Humane Options Neglected or Underdeveloped

Because scientists do not feel strongly about the unnecessary loss of life, it is not surprising that humane options are often neglected or left underdeveloped. In 1972 Britain's TB Reference Laboratory reported that a test-tube technique could be used instead of guinea pigs to diagnose tuberculosis. Nevertheless, 14 years later the Medical Microbiology Department at the London Hospital was still routinely inoculating guinea pigs for the diagnosis of TB.(30) Later still, in 1991, a correspondent to The Lancet criticised the guinea pig test, describing it as costly, hazardous and insensitive so that 'the time has come for it to be abandoned once and for all'.

The testing of hormones like insulin and somatotropin has traditionally employed animals. In 1995 a report by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) noted that in Europe and Japan, animal tests were no longer required and had been deleted from official guidelines. However, ECVAM found that in the United States, the use of animals to test these hormones continued even though it had been stopped in other countries.(31)

Thousands of animals die simply to provide parts of their bodies for in vitro experiments when human tissue from volunteers, biopsies, surgical waste and post-mortems would provide more meaningful results. Little is known about the number of animals sacrificed in this way, but figures for the Netherlands suggest that 14% of experiments fall into this category.(32) At Italy's Mario Negm Institute, where thousands of animals are used for drug and cancer research, the proportion is put at 25%.33 In Britain this would mean that at least 400,000 animals are killed every year as a source of cells and tissues.(34) Scientists usually cite lack of availability of human tissue as the chief obstacle to its more widespread use, and certainly more could be done to establish and coordinate tissue banks to prevent post mortem material and surgical specimens going to waste. But attitude is also vital, as shown by Pharmagene Laboratories Ltd, the first in Britain to focus exclusively on human tissue for research. According to co-founder Dr Bob Coleman, 'It is true that the acquisition of human tissue for research is not easy. However, we have worked hard to establish collaborations with major teaching hospitals and their associated tissue banks. It is also our aim to establish a greater acceptance of research as an acceptable use of donated human tissue. Finally, and most importantly, we make ourselves available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to receive, process and use that tissue.'(35)

Some researchers seem reluctant to think of in vitro and other techniques as 'alternatives', perhaps because they are seen as a threat to careers based on animal experiments. In an analysis of the arguments used to defend vivisection, Professor Wiebers and his colleagues describe how 'Many animal research advocates have recently enlisted another argument. They would abandon the term alternatives, and instead endorse other techniques as adjuncts to animal research. The term alternatives arouses the fear that conceding any replacement for animal research might lead to widespread replacement. This reluctance to look more broadly at the full range of research methods and designs ignores the fact that for much research, better science dictates a shift to cellular, molecular, and mathematical systems.'(36)

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