It is part of a physician's code of ethics to do no harm to his patients. The idea is incorporated in the Hippocratic Oath. I believe these same high standards of behaviour should also apply to medical scientists who carry out research. They too should undertake to "do no harm” by using only humane methods of research. There are of course many methods of investigation that “do no harm”, and these include clinical observation of people who are ill or who have died, test tube experiments with human tissues, and computer simulation of biological systems.
Unfortunately, many scientists fail to observe these civi¬lised standards of behaviour. The result is that millions of animals suffer and die in the world's laboratories.
Animal experiments not only bring misery and death to animals, it can also endanger human health. The physiological and biochemical differences between people and animals mean there is always the risk of misleading predictions. To illustrate these dangers there are three important cases where animal experiments have delayed medical progress.
POLIO RESEARCH ANIMAL EXPERIMENTS’ HISTORY
Those who defend animal experiments often cite the conquest of polio as a triumph of animal experiments. In fact, emphasis on misleading monkey experiments rather than human studies delayed a proper understanding of the disease for over 25 years (1).
Following discovery of the virus in 1908, scientists focussed their main attention on the artificially induced disease in monkeys, believing it to be an exact replica of the human infection. Based on these experiments, it was generally believed that polio virus entered the body through the nose and that it only attacked the central nervous system. Yet by 1907, epidemiological studies of actual human cases had correctly suggested that polio virus was not entirely or even chiefly a disease of the central nervous system, and that people are infected through the digestive track. Tragically, animal experiments so dominated research that prior to 1937, most scientists rejected the notion that polio is an intesti¬nal disease.
Whether the virus entered the body by the mouth or nose was of great practical importance for it determined the kind of remedies that were developed. For instance, by 1937, researchers had produced a nasal spray that prevented infection in monkeys. It was widely promoted for human use but inevitably failed. The only result was to abolish the children's sense of smell, in some cases permanently. Eventually, support for the nasal route of infection started to wane, and it was only when scientists understood that polio virus enters the mouth and first resides in the intestines that it was possible to develop an orally administered vaccine.
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