International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals

Study of Disease

5: Page 5

Experimental epidemiology provided compelling proof of the link between oxygen treatment and retrolental fibroplasia, a condition where fibrous tissue proliferates behind the lens of the eye causing blindness. It was noticed that the disease occurred much more commonly in premature babies who had continuous oxygen therapy during the first few days of life. The observation led to trials with reduced amounts of oxygen, when the disease completely disappeared.12

More recently, US researchers led by Dr Dean Ornish at the University of California, have carried out experiments to see whether lifestyle changes normally suggested as preventive measures can also be effective in treating people with heart disease. They found that if patients with advanced heart disease adopt a low fat vegetarian diet, stop smoking, take moderate exercise and use relaxation techniques, the plaques in their arteries actually start to disappear, the changes occurring in only a year and without the use of drugs.13

Although epidemiologists prefer planned experiments, this is not always possible. Nevertheless a great deal can be learned from critical analysis of unplanned “experiments” such as natural or man-made disasters. For example, much of our knowledge concerning methylmercury toxicity comes from the notorious outbreaks of poisoning at Minimata Bay in the 1950s and in Iraq during 1971-72. In what came to be known as “Minimata disease”, a total of 121 people living in villages around Minimata Bay were poisoned by eating contaminated fish: 46 died. The poisonings were traced to release of methylmercury compounds from plastics industries into the waters of Minimata Bay.14

According to Dr Dewar of the Shell Center in London,15 such studies have given “infinitely more relevant knowledge than even the most careful and elegant animal tests.”


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