Pro-Test: Standing Up For Science
Home > Facts > FAQS 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Although yet to be fully integrated with the site - we have a Word document with 15 of the most common myths perpetrated by animal rights groups. Pseudoscience, misquotes and silly statistics from Morphine puts humans asleep but excites cats to Blood transfusions were delayed 200 years by animal studies, are all debunked - with more to come. Download or view here

1. Doesn't what happened with thalidomide show that animal testing doesn't work?
One of the major arguments against testing drugs on animals is the example of the drug thalidomide, which caused birth defects. Thalidomide was introduced in 1956 and marketed as a sedative. Within several years, its use had spread around the world and women began taking it to help combat the nausea associated with pregnancy. In 1961, several physicians linked thalidomide with birth defects observed in their patients currently taking it. Almost immediately afterwards, physicians worldwide began confirming these results. Soon after the discovery of the teratogenic effects became known, thalidomide was taken off the market, but 15,000 children suffered disfiguring birth defects and many died.

Thalidomide did initially pass safety tests in animals but this was because the proper tests were not performed: thalidomide was not tested on pregnant animals. If a thorough battery of tests had been performed in animals, the teratogenic effects would have been caught. Thalidomide was never approved for sale in the USA because the Food and Drug Administration felt that not enough testing had been carried out. After its withdrawal from the market, thalidomide was tested on pregnant animals and found to induce birth defects in mice, rats, hamsters, marmosets and baboons (see original literature below). If these tests on animals had been carried out, the disaster would have been averted. So the thalidomide example so beloved of anti-vivisectionists turns out to be an argument in favour of more animal testing, not less -- which is why it is now a legal requirement to test all drugs on pregnant animals. It was the absence of rigorous animal testing that led to this human tragedy. Banning animal testing would create similar disasters on a staggeringly frequent basis.

Further reading:
D. A. Blake, G. B. Gordon, & S.P. Spielberg, 'The role of metabolic activation in thalidomide teratogenesis', Teratology 25: 2 (1982), pp. 28A-29A.
J. A. DiPaolo, 'Congenital Malformation in Strain A Mice: Its Experimental Production by Thalidomide', Journal of the American Medical Association, 183 (1963), pp.139-141.
F. Homburger, S. Chaube, M. Eppenberger, P. D. Bogdonoff & and C.W. Nixon,  'Susceptibility of Certain Inbred Strains of Hamsters to Teratogenic Effects of Thalidomide',  Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 7:5 (1965), pp. 686-69.
W. J. Hamilton & D. E. Poswillo, 'Limb Reduction Anomalies Induced in the Marmoset by Thalidomide', Journal of Anatomy 11 (1972), pp. 505-50.
A. G. Hendrick, L. R. Axelrod & L. D. Clayborn, 'Thalidomide Syndrome in Baboons', Nature, 210 (1966), pp. 958-95.
C. T. G. King CTG & F. J. Kendrick, 'Teratogenic Effects of Thalidomide in the Sprague Dawley Rat', The Lancet vol. ii (1962), p. 1116.
S. V. Rajkumar, 'Thalidomide: Tragic Past and Promising Future' Mayo Clinic Procedures 79:7 (2004).

2. What about Vioxx? Isn't that worse than thalidomide?
Vioxx was an anti-arthiritis drug withdrawn from sale in 2004. Its manufacturers, Merck, have lost one court cases alleging side-effects from this drug, and won two - so in a sense the jury is still out. In any case, Vioxx was extensively tested in animals and humans in randomised placebo- and active-controlled clinical trials both before and after it was approved by over 70 regulatory agencies around the world. E.g., before submitting Vioxx to the US Food and Drug Agency in 1998, Merck conducted 58 studies involving over 10,000 patients. Over half of them took Vioxx, many for over a year. 80 million prescriptions for Vioxx were issued in total while the drug was on the market. The FDA estimated that it caused 88,000 to 139,000 heart attacks, 30 to 40 per cent of which were fatal. The maximum number of fatal heart attacks is therefore 55,600 - out of 80,000,000 prescriptions. As a fraction, this is extremely low (0.0007). This is not to rule out the seriousness of the alleged side-effects on those it affected, but rather to point out how rarely these side effects were produced. When side effects are this rare, it is almost impossible to detect them in clinical trials. For example, the number of animals used in trials was limited for ethical reasons - only a few hundred were used. This made it impossible to detect a side effect that would only show up in every 1 in 400 cases. To detect a 1 in 400 incidence of a side effect would require the use of at least 5,000 animals to be sure the data was statistically significant (p = 0.005) rather than just a chance occurrence.

Vioxx, then, is not a case where animal testing said the drug was okay, and then the drug went on to kill many humans. It is a case where a drug has such incredibly rare side effects that only massive clinical trials could have had any hope in detecting them. If anything, the Vioxx case is an argument for more animal testing, not less.

3. How can animal testing work, when animals are so different from humans?
Animal models are not perfect representations of humans and scientists are well aware of this. But, they do serve as excellent substitutes (mostly using mice, rats and other small rodents) for humans.

As the genomic revolution has come around and the genomes of both humans and animals have been sequenced, we have realized that there are much more similarities between humans and animals than there are differences. It has also enabled us to identify where humans and particular animals are identical, as some animals serve as accurate representatives of a human's anatomy, while others may share identical biochemical pathways. Genomic knowledge has made it so that animal research can be much more specifically targeted and accurate when representing a human, thus correctly predicting a how a human will react.

For example, mice are one of the most commonly used vertebrate species in animal research. This is because they small, easy to care for and for animal researchers to handle and work with and importantly, they reproduce much faster than many larger animals, as they can produce up to 100 babies in a year. This is an important trait when researchers are studying heritable diseases or compounds that could cause birth defects (see question number 1 on thalidomide). Mice are actually considered the best model of inherited human diseases. This is because they share 99% of all the genes with humans! Their genomes are also easy to manipulate to replicate the human form making them even more similar to humans (source).

4.  Could micro-dosing replace animal testing?
Anti-vivisectionists often argue that micro-dosing could be used to avoid the toxic effects of drugs trials that go wrong, such as the recent TGN1412 case, but it is a truly absurd claim based on a complete misunderstanding of what micro-dosing involves. Micro-dosing is a procedure whereby a tiny amount of a drug is injected into a body to see where it goes and how the body processes and absorbs it. After careful studies in animals, a dose is selected which is thought to be 100 times lower than a possible toxic dose, and given to human trial volunteers. So there is no way that micro-dosing would ever elicit or prevent a toxic dose being given. Micro-dosing is just a standard part of toxicology tests, which are themselves a standard part of any drug development trial. Human-based safety tests using volunteers are always used before any drug is rolled out to the general public. Anti-vivisectionists would eliminate animal testing and have drugs trialled directly on humans without prior research in any other lifeform. The results of this would be truly disastrous. (Read more on microdosing here.)

5. Could in vitro testing replace animal testing?
Again, this is an argument much beloved of anti-vivisectionists; again, it is false. In vitro testing means testing on a substance in a test tube, i.e., not inside any living organism. As such it is just as limited as any other research method that does not allow us to understand the effects of a drug or procedure on a whole creature. As explained fully on our 'alternatives' page, scientists use a range of non-animal tests, including on computer models, cells, bacteria, etc, some of which may well be in vitro, before progressing to research on animals. But because we simply cannot know what the effects of a drug will be in a full animal by testing on cells in a test tube (because neither the cells nor test tube possess a circulatory system, heart, liver, etc, so there is no way of knowing how the drug will be absorbed and affect a living organism), there will always come a point where we must test on a living creature. The choice is then between animals or human beings. In our view, this is an easy choice to make.

You might also have been told about 'research' that 'proves' that in vitro is the future (Jarrod Bailey et al. 'The Future Of Teratology Research is in vitro', Biogenic Amines 19:2 (2005), pp. 97-145). Unfortunately Jarrod Bailey is the scientific director of Europeans for Medical Progress, an anti-vivisection campaigning group, and co-authored the paper along with other like-minded individuals. Usually, bad research is weeded out of academic journals by a process called 'peer-review', which simply involves drafts being read by talented individuals in the field to check that the contents are correct and an original contribution. When asked about peer review, Claude Reiss, a well-known anti-vivisectionist with connections to EMP and Animal Aid, responded. He was later dismissed from the journal's editorial board. The journal's editor, Parvez, admitted he could not guarantee the paper had been properly peer-reviewed. He stated that Biogenic Animes did 'in the past, have insertion of an anti-vivisectionist, Claude Reiss, in the editorial board who did some of the editing... after his 2 years stay... he did lots of harm to the journal and we all forced him to resign.' Sadly this is very typical of the junk science output of anti-vivisectionists and the depths to which they sink to win an impossible argument.

6. Animal testing is cruel - don't you care about animals?
The Chambers English dictionary defines cruelty as the 'deliberate and pitiless causing of pain or suffering'. Anti-vivisectionists would have you believe that all animal research is cruel and refer to the new Oxford lab as a 'torture centre'. There are two reasons why such statements are misplaced. First, scientists and their lab technicians care deeply about the welfare of the animals they work with and are often animal lovers themselves. One of the reasons Oxford's new lab is being built is to comply with government regulations on the conditions in which animals are kept - which are among the strictest in the world. For instance, the very few (less than 1% of the total animals to be used) monkeys to be housed at the lab will now be able to live together in troops as they do in the wild. The UK has one of the tightest systems of regulation in the world, with over 2,000 inspections annually, most of them surprise inspections. Wherever possible, animals are anaesthetised during testing, meaning they feel no pain, while operations are carried out under the same sterile and aseptic conditions you would expect in any hospital where humans are treated. Furthermore, many animals have benefited from animal testing. To take just one minor example, insulin was developed via research on dogs and is now used to treat diabetes in pets as well as humans. Animal testing is subject to ethical review at the national and local level. Locally, bodies called ethics committees rigorously scrutinise the work being carried out by scientists. Nationally, the Home Secretary issues licences for animal-based research only in cases where the welfare gain for humans is expected to outweigh any welfare loss to animals.

This brings us to the second and more crucial point. The facts here show that animal testing is a necessary stage in the development of new cures, therapies and procedures designed to cure illnesses, save lives and improve the quality of human life. Animal welfare must be taken into consideration, but ultimately, human beings must come first. Everyone in the UK has benefited from the gains of research using animals. The use of animals is our only hope for finding cures for cancer, HIV-AIDS, malaria, Motor Neurone Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and so on. The cost in animal lives of the life-saving research carried out using animals is less than 3 animals per person in the UK over the course of that person's lifetime (under 3 million animals per year are used per year, over 90% of them being rodents). Anyone who thinks a human life or the alleviation of human suffering is not worth the life of 3 rats has a deeply degraded view of the value of human life and well-being. Over 8,000 people die each day from AIDS. Every year, 1.5 to 3 million people, mostly children, die of malaria. Every year, over 150,000 people in the UK die of cancer - that's over 25% of all deaths every year. Living with such conditions is truly torture - for the sufferers and their families. What is true cruelty is any attempt to limit the urgent work of scientists that provides our only hope for saving human lives and alleviating human suffering.

7. Where does Pro-Test stand on cosmetic testing?
Pro-Test takes no stance on cosmetic testing because it is irrelevant to scientific progress. Cosmetic testing on animals was banned in the UK in 1998. It is also banned in the Netherlands and Belgium, and the European Union has passed legislation that outlaws animal testing in the year 2009. By 2014, products still being tested on animals in other countries will also be banned in the EU.

Home | About | Facts | Blogs | Action | Get Involved | Contact | Links | Donate | Site Map Pro-Test 2006 (some rights reserved)