Scientific debate on animal model in research is needed

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.323.7323.1252 (Published 24 November 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1252
  1. Pandora Pound (radford.mill{at}ukonline.co.uk), freelance researcher
  1. Radford Mill, Timsbury, Bath BA2 0QF

    EDITOR—The editorial by Smith on animal research generated 23 responses on bmj.com, which are categorised in the table. 1 2

    Categories of electronic responses to Smith's editorial on animal research1

    View this table:

    Five responses (and an additional letter by Botting) were published in the BMJ.3 Those selected fell into the category either of improvements to the current system, which supported the 3Rs (replacement, refinement, and reduction) approach (four letters), or of alternatives to animal research (one letter). All five letters adopted a conservative approach to the issue of animal research, and none challenged any of the points made in the editorial. Although some of the other letters may not have been suitable for publication, there seems to have been a selection bias.

    Of the responses not selected for publication, eight fell under the category of scientific validity of the animal model. The most comprehensive of these, by Greek and Greek, argued that evolutionary theory undermines many of the assumptions on which the animal model relies and questioned the validity of the causal analogical models used in animal research. Although this was too long to print in its original form, a shortened version could have been solicited for the BMJ. Green, Gajek, Biel, and Yoe also raised important questions about the scientific validity of the animal model, whereas Goodman, Ferguson, and Partridge defended the methodology. None of these letters was printed.

    Smith is right: the current debate on animal research is far too simplistic. But he is wrong if he thinks that people who object to institutions such as Huntingdon Life Sciences do so purely on the basis of concern for animal welfare. Traditionally, the emphasis in the animal rights movement has been on cruelty to animals, and the objections to research on animals have been ethical. During the past few years, however, the focus has widened, and those conducting research using animals are now being challenged on scientific grounds. Furthermore, humans are arguably suffering as a result of animal research because the data derived from animal models cannot be reliably extrapolated to humans.

    This paradigm shift is not surprising—the decline of public trust in the infallibility and neutrality of experts is well documented. The challenge to the scientific validity of the animal model needs to be taken seriously, as do concerns about the impact of animal research on humans. This issue must be debated thoughtfully and scientifically—not by throwing examples of drug disasters and medical advances to and fro. The Greeks are challenging the theory underpinning animal research. The BMJ would provide an excellent forum for this debate to take place.


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