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Why I Take Animal Tested Drugs

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Simon Chaitowitz

March 4, 2009

Why I Take Animal-Tested Drugs (link to full story and all comments)

One of my doctors has told me to get my affairs in order, which is why I'm writing this column. I want to explain why someone who takes so many animal-tested drugs is opposed to animal research.

I have full-blown leukemia and the chemotherapy I'm taking doesn't seem to be working all that well. And even if it does kick into high gear soon, it's not a cure, only a brief delay of the disease's progression. One way or another, my odds aren't good.

Still, I keep popping pills each morning and night, sitting for many hours each week with an IV in my arm, dealing with all the side-effects of treatment, hoping for a miracle. Some people may call me a hypocrite -- to take advantage of the benefits of animal research. Let me explain.

The truth is that I don't feel I've ultimately benefited from our healthcare system, despite some truly exceptional care and many amazingly compassionate practitioners. Just the opposite.

I first developed myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) in 2004 from the chemo I was prescribed for breast cancer. In 2006, I underwent a stem cell transplant, which gave me two years of remission (albeit with many horrible side effects). This past July, I relapsed -- this time with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). My prognosis is grim.

Throughout the past six years, I have felt terribly guilty about the drugs and procedures I've undergone because I know that so many animals have suffered in their development. I know about these conditions because of my former job -- working for a nonprofit that promotes alternatives to animal research. I know about the conditions from talking with former animal researchers and others who have witnessed the cruelty. In fact, one man I know from an Internet support group remembers hearing lab dogs yelping in pain at the hospital where we both had our transplants.

The truth -- mostly hidden from public view -- is that animal research is horribly cruel. Despite what the research community claims, federal regulations are extremely weak and poorly enforced, and some species -- mice, for example -- are completely excluded from any protection. Many investigations have shown just how bad conditions are.

But as someone who recently signed up for hospice, I have another major problem with animal research. I wonder if science would have found a cure for my leukemia by now if they weren't sidetracked by misleading animal tests. I wonder if the chemo that I took for breast cancer would have been safer it hadn't been tested in species that are so unlike our own.

The truth is that using animals to develop and test drugs is a system that doesn't work very well. It's an old paradigm, one that is fortunately beginning to change, however slowly. A growing number of scientists are developing some exciting (and more effective) non-animal alternatives. These changes have been inspired partly by concern over animal cruelty but also because animal research and testing have so often failed us. Some government agencies are even starting to call for more alternatives.

More than 90 percent of all new drugs which proved effective in animals end up not working for humans. It's because animals -- however similar they are to us -- have different physiological systems. What works in a mouse usually doesn't work in a human.

History is filled with stories of drugs that didn't work in animals -- Aspirin, for example -- that ended up working in humans. And the obituary pages are filled with stories of people who died from drugs that looked safe in animals. The painkiller Vioxx, for example, tested safe in mice and five other species but ended up killing many thousands of Americans.

If you wonder how I can justify taking the drugs, the truth is that like all living beings ("lab animals" included) I desperately want to live. And because of government regulations, I don't have a choice.

The current drug approval system doesn't yet acknowledge the superiority of human-focused, nonanimal research methods (such as microdosing) and all pharmaceutical companies must use animals to get their drugs approved. Hopefully, this situation will soon change. A coalition of animal protection groups and physicians has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to accept the results of alternative tests, when available.

If the chemo drugs I'm trying now don't work, I do have one last option. I could try a Phase One trial. That's when a drug looks promising in animals and is first tested in humans. My doctor started to tell me why so many participants die in Phase One trials -- but it turned out I already knew the answer. Drugs that work in animals, he explained, usually don't work in humans.


Gerald Ardigliano:

What Simon does not mention is that the MEDS she takes were not created due to animal trials. The animal trial phase is of course a regulatory procedure that does not create the actual drug. The drug is created before the trial phase. If the animals were deleted and the human trials expanded in quantity we would automatically have safer and more effective drugs. From a pure scientific standpoint the animal phase does harm to people not help. It eliminates obvious potential cures from being discovered due to the animal-model yielding a total failure rate at a staggering 96%.


Olivvy:

The pro-vivisection claim that we can thank animal testing for various medical advances is disingenuous, since all pharmaceutical products are required by law to be tested on animals. In some places, the municipal water supplies are still tested on animals. Even fruit juices have been tested on animals in recent years. They didn't need to be, but they were. If you're buying toothpaste, hairspray, deodorant, laundry detergent, etc., you have a choice between products that are and are not tested on animals. That is not the case with pharmaceuticals.

I'd be reluctant to hurl accusations of hypocrisy at animal rights activists, since there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around. We live in a country where people who eat pigs and cows have passed laws making it a crime to eat dog meat and horse meat. And vivisectors who are so quick to take the credit for medical breakthroughs that were tested on animals by default, refuse to take the blame when things go wrong (Thalidomide, Rezulin, Vioxx). I think we're slowly becoming more humane as a society, and that's better than being consistently wrong.


lwdfg:

Well emjay1954, before you begrudge a dying woman her medicine and challenge other anti-vivisectionists to avoid theirs, perhaps you should pledge that you and your family will take Thalidomide, Eraldin, Opren, Clioquinol, Isoprenaline, Rezulin, Vioxx, etc., since those have been "proven safe" in animal tests. The medicine Simon is taking is already here. Taking it doesn't mean she has to condone animal testing. We have a black president living in a house built by slaves. Should he live elsewhere just to prove a point? We should all consider the paths used to get us where we are, but that doesn't mean we have to endorse everything that happened along the way.


Animal Libero

emjay, the things you mentioned all came about because of the research on humans, not the research on animals. The first heart catheterization was done by the human doctor who invented it and he did it on himself, insulin problems in diabetics were found because of research on humans but insulin was first derived from animals. This insulin sickened many people, and it was the artificial insulin derived from imitating human insulin that was used successfully. I could go on if you like...

Animal research played a part in medical progress, often by slowing it down, or halting it in many areas of medicine.

Thank you for sharing your story Simon.

I always look at it like this: Medications exist IN SPITE OF animal testing, not because of it. If anything, ill people should be grateful for what they can get, seeing that the majority of medical research dollars go to cruel and faulty animal research which can not predict human response (see http://www.peh-med.com/content/4/1/2 ). You touched on this a bit in your article.

While people should definitely eliminate pharmaceuticals from their diets as much as possible (ie say not to drugs, say yes to herbs and prevention) there are certain ailments that can not be treated this way. Yours is one of them.

As I see it, you are not taking advantage of the benefits of animal research, you are taking advantage of the benefits of HUMAN research. The only reason nonhuman animals played a part was because the law requires them to. But, the discoveries leading to your medications were a result of human research.

Feel no guilt.


SarahKindrick

To me, even if animal research was effective, I would be opposed to it. There are so many practices that can be effective (e.g torture of human beings in the name of "anti-terrorism") that cannot be condoned, because they are just wrong. One doesn't always have to rationalize that a practice is ineffective, unhealthy or expensive to oppose it. What would we think if a superior race of beings came to this planet and decided to experiment on us for their own purposes. Would we think it okay for them, if we were similar enough to them to make their practices rewarding to them? Plain and simple. Animals suffer and are killed in vivisection. We would not like it done to us, so we shouldn't do it to them.

Sarah


toomuchevil

As cruel as laboratory research using animals is (and I know, because I was a practitioner), it is just as cruel to deprive good people of effective treatments and hope because we can't outgrow the discredited animal research paradigm. Nearly all cancer cures were developed in the first half of the 20th century, before animal testing became required.

There hasn't been a new and different cure for any cancer in decades, at least 95% of drugs successful in animal cancers do not work or are too toxic for people (the highest drug failure rate for any human disease), and even those few drugs that work can help only 25-30% of patients. And that "help" is defined as extra weeks or months of often compromised life -- not cures.

We could hardly have a LESS reliable means of discovering and developing cancer drugs. Better methods are out there, and more importantly many other better methods would come along faster if we worked on that approach and stopped killing our patients with animal-tested drugs.

In 1998 the Director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute stated: "We have cured mice of cancer for decades, and it simply didn"t work in humans." We are still doing it, and it still isn't working. One definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome. Simon and many others are paying for this stupidity.

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