Parkinson’s Disease and Animal testing

Brussels April 29th: Supporting a Parkinson's Disease event in the European parliament, with Clare Moonan, Campaign Manager of the Parkinson's Disease Society, and Emeritus Professor Will Waites of Nottingham, a Parkinson's sufferer

Brussels April 29th: Supporting a Parkinson's Disease event in the European parliament, with Clare Moonan, Campaign Manager of the Parkinson's Disease Society, and Emeritus Professor Will Waites of Nottingham, a Parkinson's sufferer

On April 29th I attended an event organised jointly by the Parkinson’s Disease Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, the British Heart Foundation and others, under the aegis of the UK Biosciences Federation.  The event coincided with the parliament’s consideration of a new regulation on animal testing for medical purposes, and of course we MEPs have been besieged by organised letter and e-mail campaigns calling for a unilateral end to all animal experiments.
Several key points emerged at the event I attended, and they are worth keeping in mind.
Firstly, virtually all major advances in health care in the last century have depended on animal research.  Don’t take my word for it — that’s a quote from the Department of Health.  I have a list in front of me of breakthroughs that have been based on animal experiments, and it’s far to long to reproduce here, but it includes the malaria lifecycle, smallpox vaccine, corneal transplants (I’ve had two), blood transfusions, kidney dialysis, polio vaccine, cardiac pacemakers, heart transplants, hepatitis C vaccines, bird flu vaccine, stem cell and gene therapy.  Human health care has benefitted hugely from animal experiments.
Secondly, the benefits are not just for humans but for animals too.  It’s estimated that between 15 and 20% of all animal research is about curing animal diseases, and creating veterinary medicines.  Animal experiments have been vital not only for human healthcare, but for animal welfare as well.
Thirdly, the effect of a total EU ban would simply be to move essential research elsewhere.  This would damage science and research in EU countries — it might well cause pharmaceutical companies to move other operations offshore as well, costing jobs and investment.  But it would also move animal testing to jurisdictions with lower welfare standards than those already existing in the EU.  This is the critical point: a total ban on animal experiments in the EU would result in more animal suffering, not less.  And quite possibly it would result in poorer science as well.
Of course just about everyone agrees that animal testing should be minimised.  The European parliament has done a great deal of work to promote and encourage non-animal testing methods. There has been great progress on non-animal testing methods.   And everyone agrees that the testing we do should be done as humanely as possible.  The controls and restrictions and certification régimes already in place on animal testing are extremely rigorous.  But as of today, there is an irreducible minimum of animal testing which must continue, both for research on Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and for a range of other diseases and techniques.  And that research is vital for both human health and animal welfare.

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11 Responses to Parkinson’s Disease and Animal testing

  1. Rees Mangal - Dr M.D., MSc says:

    What’s wrong with animal experiments?

    Open your mind

    Sadly, much medical research into human health problems involves experiments on animals. Official estimates for animal experiments globally are around 100 million experiments each year. Cats, dogs, rabbits, mice and other animals, no different to those we have as pets, are used in experiments. Animals are force-fed harmful substances, infected with lethal viruses, subjected to brain damage, heart attacks, stokes, cancers and ultimately killed. As well as causing pain and suffering, animal experiments are unreliable because of differences between humans and animals.

    The Dr Hadwen Trust is the UK’s leading medical research charity that funds and promotes exclusively non-animal research techniques to replace animal experiments. The Trust is opposed to animal experiments for ethical and scientific reasons.

    Laboratory ratThe ethical case against animal experiments
    UK law recognises that animals used in research are capable of experiencing “pain, distress, suffering and lasting harm”, but these sentient animals are unable to give their consent to participate in research. The fact that animals are used to study pain, depression, anxiety, and to test pain-killing drugs for human use, demonstrates that scientists recognise that animals are capable of suffering in many ways just like humans.

    For some people the fact that animals can suffer and experience pain is sufficient reason to refrain on moral grounds from harming them. Beyond pain, there is also persuasive evidence that animals, in particular mammals and birds, have thoughts, intentions, and memories. This means they can be harmed by confinement, frustration, fear, isolation, and loss of life – experiences unavoidable for animals confined in laboratories and used in experiments.

    The measurement of stress hormones, and presence of ulcers, immune suppression, abnormal behaviour and brain dysfunction in laboratory animals, provide further evidence that animals commonly used in labs do suffer pain and distress.

    Some people claim that because animals do not have duties or responsibilities in the way humans do, they are not deserving of the same protection. However, some humans have no responsibilities or duties, such as babies, the mentally ill, or very infirm, yet they are not stripped of their rights in this way. Indeed, such individuals are usually considered more deserving of protection, not less.

    Others argue that the potential benefit to human society justifies experiments on animals. However this argument is a slippery slope, as this reasoning would also justify experiments on a few non-consenting humans for the ultimate benefit of human society – a clearly unethical scenario.

    The scientific case against animal experiments

    The scientific objections to animal experiments are based on the problem of species differences and the artificiality of the diseases induced in them, meaning that results from animal experiments may be of dubious value to humans.

    A major weakness of medical research on animals is the differences between species, which can make results from one type of animal inapplicable to another. Some of these variations are known and can perhaps be taken into account; but others, such as reactions to new drugs or the function of an area of the brain, are not yet discovered – in these cases, the results from animal experiments can be seriously misleading.

    Pursuing a line of research on animals can produce conflicting or confusing results, of unknown relevance to human beings. This can have serious implications, at worst misleading researchers about an illness and delaying medical progress.

    In medical research animals are used to model a variety of illnesses. This usually involves artificially inducing some of the symptoms of the human condition, whilst failing to replicate the underlying cause. Animal ‘models’ can therefore seriously mislead. Results from animal experiments all too often raise patients’ hopes of an imminent cure, only to have them dashed when the promised therapy fails to work in humans.

    Monkey behind barsFor example, ‘strokes’ are induced in monkeys and rats by blocking an artery to the brain, causing brain damage. Decades of animal research have produced numerous stroke drugs that protect animals, but none of them are effective in humans.

    Monkeys are injected with a toxic chemical that induces a disorder superficially similar to human Parkinson’s disease, but the monkeys recover from the condition when the injections stop. The human condition remains incurable.

    Dogs are widely used for research into heart disease, despite numerous differences between dog and human hearts, blood vessels and circulation. For example, high blood pressure in obese patients is associated with high insulin levels in the blood, yet in dogs high insulin levels actually lower blood pressure.

    Septic shock, the leading cause of death in intensive care units, has been studied for decades in animals. Of numerous therapies found to improve survival in animal models of septic shock, none have worked in humans and even worse, some have decreased patients’ survival.

    Billions of pounds have been spent on trying to create animal models of AIDS with little success. Now increasingly animals are being genetically modified in attempts to model human illnesses. Even when these GM animals have an identical defective gene they do not always develop the same disease as humans, or indeed any disease at all.

    We all want medical research to succeed in finding cures and treatments for human health problems. At the Dr Hadwen Trust we believe animal experiments are unacceptable and so we are finding ways to replace them. We have over 35 years’ experience of funding top-quality, innovative research to advance medical progress and replace animals. The Trust is dedicated to the principle of excellence in medical research, which can and should be pursued without animal experiments.

  2. Roger Helmer says:

    This blog welcomes comments. It is less keen on essays. Especially when they are merely emotional appeals that fail to address the real issue.

  3. Angela Roberts says:


    I see you are repeating the false and unverifiable claim made by pro-animal researchers that “virtually all medical advances are due to animal research”.

    I suggest you read a recent article published in the prestigious Journal Of The Royal Society Of Medicine, which states:

    In this essay, the origins and justification of this oft-repeated statement are examined. Despite its endorsement by leading academic bodies, it is far from clear that the statement has been, or even could be, formally validated.

    You embarrass yourself by repeating this nonsense.

  4. Yesterday was an invaluable opportunity for MEPs and their colleagues to hear the personal testimonies of patients and carers about what it is like to live with a serious disease or illness such as Alzhiemer’s and how medical research using animals is bringing new hope and opportunities to improve their quality of life. I am certain that events like yesterday’s have helped to ensure that the debate about Directive EU 86/609 has become more balanced and better informed. And what was clear from the presence of so many pan-European patient groups at the meeting is that getting this Directive right is crucial to improving patient lives wherever they live in Europe.

  5. Roger Helmer says:

    Angela, My “false and unverifiable claim” was actually made by the Department of Health. There are literally dozens of examples, from the life-cycle of the malaria parasite to heart transplants. The claim is demonstrably true, and only doctrinaire zealots would argue with it.

  6. Raj says:

    If you want to see the documentation that animal research is beneficial for human AND animal health, see the book, THE ANIMAL RESEARCH WAR (Macmillan). The book takes each of the animal rights claims and get to the root of them and debunks them.

  7. Angela Roberts says:

    Roger, you keep repeating the claim – but as I pointed out, there are scientists working in the field who (presumably know more about it than yourself as you’re not a scientist) who disagree with this statement and feel that it cannot be demonstrated to be true.

    In recent years there have been several reviews that have concluded the same, for eg:
    Systematic reviews of animal experiments demonstrate poor contributions toward human healthcare – New study published in Reviews on Recent Clinical Trials 2008; 3(2): 89-96.
    (I can provide several more studies which concur)

    Please don’t keep repeating this meaningless propaganda, it does nothing for your credibility.

    • si says:

      That report was written by antivivsectionists and shows a significant misunderstanding of statistical significance.

      It is a rather less-than robust, cherry-picking, conclusion conjoring report strongly reminiscent of the works of L Ron Hubbard that I would invite anyone to read and laugh at heartily. It appears to be the basis of the “90% of animal tests fail” meme that doesn’t seem to understand that experiments are conducted because they’re not sure of the outcome. If they were, they wouldn’t need to experiment, would they? BTW the remaining 10% will contain the cure for cancer and AIDS in the not-to-distant future.

      It seems to ignore that, if an alternative to animal testing exists, it is illegal not to use it. This idea that officials are just more “comortable” with animal testing is just bizarre. The final argument when dealing with an anti-vivsectionist is “if there’s an alternative, prosecute the researchers who ignored it”. They can’t, because their alternative is a fictional construct. They are children wrestling with a grown-up issue with the lives of many people and animals at stake.

  8. Raj says:

    QUOTE: Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop won the esteem
    of the public for his forthright pronouncements on various
    health risks. Koop’s most valuable contribution might have
    been this caution: The animal rights movement is dangerous to
    our health. This warning, if placed on prescription pads, organ
    donor cards, and hospital admission forms, could help shield us
    from the “big untruth.” It refocuses our attention on the
    researchers and doctors who try to set the record straight on
    how we got the polio vaccine, insulin, and organ transplants or
    on how our children could be better protected from cystic
    fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and
    Alzheimer’s. The “how,” of course, is through the humane
    use of animals in basic biomedical research. (FROM: The Animal Research War)

  9. Derek Tipp says:

    I believe we need to do everything necessary to find cures for the life threatening diseases that exist. Of course, as Roger has said, we must ensure the highest standards of care for animals and only use animals where it is essential, but a complete ban would simply drive these experiments to ther less well controlled parts of the world.

  10. Peter Green says:

    My wife suffers dreadfully from Parkinson’s Disease. It is not terminal but drags down life for both those affected and their carers, so often spouse or near relative.
    More research is needed to reduce such human suffering. However, the constant animal rights attacks on the benefits that controlled humane laboratory animal testing can bring seem likely to succeed in preventing this avenue of research.
    So much for human rights!

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