• WisBusiness

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Next up: Will the National Institutes of Health rule on local zoning laws?

By Tom Still
Here's a partial list of federal agencies and academic groups that regulate if, how and when animals are used in research settings:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care and the UW-Madison All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee.

The job simply won't be complete, however, until the Dane County Board of Supervisors gives its stamp of approval.

A special committee of the board may be created to study whether Dane County should officially "endorse" or "oppose" scientific experiments on non-human primates in Dane County. Sponsors of the idea recognize the county has no authority over animal research policies at UW-Madison, where monkeys are a part of some experiments, but they want to keep up pressure on the university on behalf of those who believe all primate research is wrong.

At one level, it's possible to understand why animal-rights advocates passionately oppose experiments involving animals. No one likes to see another creature suffer needlessly.

Beyond the passion, however, exist facts about animal-based research that run counter to the steady drumbeat of opposition.

Our quality of life has been improved significantly by biological research that sometimes relies on the use of animals in controlled experiments. A generation or more of people has never known what it was like to be unable to swim in the summer for fear of contracting polio, to go blind or deaf because of infections, or to expect that any cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.

Animal-based research has helped provide cures and treatments in those case and many more. Biotechnology companies have depended on animal research to develop more than 160 drugs and vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Those discoveries have helped hundreds of millions of people worldwide and prevented incalculable human suffering.

In addition, BIO has reported, animal research has led to 110 USDA-approved biotech-derived veterinary biologics and vaccines that improve the health of livestock, poultry and companion animals. Biotech veterinary products to treat heartworm, arthritis, parasites, allergies and heart disease, as well as vaccines for rabies and feline HIV, are used daily by veterinarians. Biotechnology has improved the way veterinarians address animal health issues through the use of biotech vaccines and diagnostic kits and improved breeding programs that can help to eliminate hereditary diseases.

All of this has been accomplished amid an array of government regulation and researcher self-policing that has made examples of animal mistreatment rare. At UW-Madison, the All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee functions as an oversight body for all animal use. Such institutional bodies are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA and National Institutes of Health regularly inspect research institutions to verify the well-being and care of animals. With very few exceptions, animals used in research -- predominantly rodents and rabbits -- do not suffer more pain or distress than animals outside the lab. In fact, lab animals often receive the best of care because of their value to researchers.

Computer modeling has already reduced the amount of animal research. So has cell-based research, such as the use of animal embryonic stem cells in drug testing. In the future, use of human embryonic stem cells in drug testing could further reduce the use of animals in research. In fact, UW-Madison researcher Jamie Thomson's breakthroughs with human stem cells rested on his doing the work first in monkeys.

For now and well into the future, animal testing will be a part of scientific research. That research is being conducted safely and humanely by researchers who are a dedicated to finding cures for some of mankind's worst diseases -- as well as conditions that plague animals themselves.

Existing laws, federal oversight and campus self-policing is all based on one concept: Researchers should never unnecessarily burden animals in research. With rare exceptions, that core ethical idea is respected and routinely observed -- even without the help of the Dane County Board.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.


Comments: 3

At May 26, 2010 at 1:10 PM, Blogger Administrator said...


At May 26, 2010 at 5:00 PM, Blogger Rick Bogle said...

Tom Still is grossly misinformed, and he is vested in the system he defends, albeit indirectly. Regarding his factual errors, its hard to know where to start; how about the beginning?

The conglomeration of bodies he claims "regulate if, how and when animals are used in research settings" is misleading.

Only two federal agencies are involved: the Natonial Institutes of Health both funds research using animals and tries to police it (like the US Minerals Management Service, and we know how well that worked.) The NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Wefare (OLAW) only rarely visits any of the tens of thousands labs it is required to regulate. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is charged with enforcement of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The most recent USDA Inspector General's report on the agency's oversight of animal labs was damning. The same inspectors also oversee so-called puppy mills. An article in the May 25, Wisconsin State Journal (USDA too lax on puppy mills, investigation says, p A9) reports that USDA "often ignores repeat violations, waves penalties, and doesn't adequately document inhumane treatment of dogs."

The other bodies named by Still are either hand-maids to the labs or have little to nothing to do with them. Still is uninformed.

Still claims that animal research has "helped hundreds of millions of people worldwide and prevented incalculable human suffering." If only the record was so clear. In fact, theories based on experiments on monkeys delayed progress on a polio vaccine for a generation. This is a simple matter of historical fact. The Nobel prize was awarded for the breakthrough in growing the virus in vitro.

Animal studies were used for a decades to prove that tobacco wasn't carcinogenic. How many lives were lost and families destroyed because beagles, monkeys, and rabbits don't get cancer from literally around-the-clock forced inhalation of tobacco smoke?

The benefits of animal experiments should be weighed against the advance made without the use of animals, the animal-tested drugs released on the market that have killed people, the opportunity costs of spending money to invent animal models of human disease rather than on basic health care, housing, prenatal care, food, etc... Still would be wise to review the growing body of criticism from groups like the the National Academies of Sciences Institute of Medicine lamenting the dismal rate of translation of preclinical data into real bedside care.

Still says: "an array of government regulation and researcher self-policing that has made examples of animal mistreatment rare. At UW-Madison, the All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee .... This is double-talk. In fact, in a very unusual joint inspection earlier this year, USDA and OLAW found multiple problems at the UW-Madison including a failure to provide veterinary care to dogs being used in research, keeping a boar in a pen that caused him to fall repeatedly, multiple cases of the use of expired medications (one researcher actually hid his expired drugs from the inspectors), filthy surgical suites, and a failure of the All-Campus committee to report the failures of researchers to follow the recommendations of staff vets.

The only published peer-reviewed investigation into the so-called "self-policing" Still touts found that the system has absolutely no reliability.

Still claims that "[n]o one likes to see another creature suffer needlessly." Indeed. Unfortunately, animal fighting fans feel they need to see animals hurt and killed. Hunters feel they need to kill animals in order to enjoy the outdoors. Animal researchers need to use animals to earn their salaries. Need is a relative term, and in Still's case, I can't imagine an experiment using animals at the university, no matter how inept, painful, or dead-end that he would not claim the taxpayers need to fund.

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