By Dr. Robert Sharpe
Scientific Director of the International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals.
During the 20th Century, vivisection has been transformed from an occasional method to the scientific fashion we know today. In Britain in 1879 there were just 270 licensed experiments. By 1970 the figure has risen to 5.5 million. Although there has been some improvement, nearly 3 million animals still suffer and die every year(1).
Scientists have long regarded animals as ‘expendable species’, to be employed as human surrogates whenever necessary. Yet vivisection has never been validated(2): it is assumed that, more often than not, animals will correctly predict how people will respond to drugs, chemicals and disease. The use of animals to test the safety of medicines reflects this attitude. Prior to the 1950s comparatively few animals were subjected to toxicity tests, the emphasis being on studies with human volunteers and patients. Some pharmaceutical companies recognised that safety was closely linked to the way drugs were processed by the body, so company pharmacologists carried out experiments on each other to understand the new medicine’s metabolic profile.(2) However, these volunteer studies exposed companies to the possibility of expensive litigation should anyone suffer adverse effects whilst experimenting on themselves, and the 1950s saw a switch to the increasing use of animals for drug safety tests.
It was realised that animal tests could not reliably predict human responses, but instead of providing the incentive for better methods this merely resulted in more animal experiments. In 1953 Lehman summarised the evolution of animal safety tests, succinctly portraying the growing uncertainties(3):
1) A rat or two, an odd rabbit, a few mice.
2) Numbers of rats increased via statistics; dogs came in; rabbits out; cats scarce.
3) Further increase in numbers of rats, also dogs, and mice.
4) More species, monkeys, marmosets, chimps, quail, pigs, fowl.
5) Time of testing increased, 10 days, 3 months, six months, 2 years, 7 years, lifespan.
6) Multi-generations tests; carcinogenesis ... teratogenesis.
7) More strains of many species, inbred, outbred.
8) Counting of dead, weighing of organs, histologic examination.
9) Biochemistry, cellular and sub-cellular effects; radioisotopes.
10) Trial by ordeal in man.
Similar problems were encountered with other substances, as the Table shows(4). >>
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