Welcome to the second in a series of posts where we look at the statements that companies, universities and charities have regarding animal research. Each statement will be given a star rating out of 4 (where 4 is the best) according to the following system:
- = statement does not exist or I could not find it
- = it was difficult to find, either I needed to use the search tool or it was buried several layers deep in the website
- = easy to find statement that is just one or two layers deep into the website.
- = statement does not exist or it is very poor (e.g. “we do animal research because it is the law to ensure drug safety”)
- = an average statement which might explain why the charity uses animals, but not why they are important in general
- = a good statement which explains the role of animal research in medical developments, preferably with accompanying material about animal research.
I will look at those five Health charities which Forbes says has over $200 million in private support. I will not include the American Kidney Fund as it (according to PCRM) does not carry out or fund any animal research, which is hardly surprising since its focus is on preventing kidney disease and providing treatment and care for patients rather than on research and development of new treatments, and it only has a relatively small clinical research program.
1. American Cancer Society
– There is no statement on the website. I phoned the organisation and was told that, although they have a statement for when people phone (which was broadly positive, if a little apologetic), they do not have anything on their website. I will be following this up in the coming week, but for now I award the largest health charity in the US, with a total revenue of close to $1 billion, zero stars.
2. American Heart Association
Healthcare / Research -> Statements / Guidelines -> Research -> About Our Research -> Our Research -> Research Standards
Research Involving Animals
For research involving animals, the American Heart Association requires all awardees to provide proof of unqualified institutional accreditation by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care or accepted U.S. Public Health Service Animal Welfare Assurance. The awardee must also have the approval of his institutional animal care and use committee.
– Having found nothing on the website, I phoned up the AHA and was directed towards this page of the website. Had the AHA staff not been pointing people towards it on the phone I probably wouldn’t have bothered including this statement – it has little to do with their position on animal research, and is still embedded 6 layers into the website. Another poor showing.
3. Susan G. Komen for the Cure (Breast Cancer organization)
4. Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
– This is getting depressing. The LLS also have no statement or position on the use of animals in research. However, using the search bar, I came across a e-newsletter from 2006 which mentioned the importance of mouse models. This is a great piece for explaining aspect of research using animals. I have given LLS one star for having this piece on their website – it’s a pity they don’t just call it their position statement and make it easier to find.
Animal studies are critical to research advances because cancer is a complex, three-dimensional disease that changes as it grows, interacting with normal cells and processes within a patient’s body. Cells in laboratory dishes cannot adequately model this complexity and computer models, although more and more promising, are still a long way from teaching us what we need to know. Cancer patients need answers now.
Much of what we know about cancer comes from mouse studies, in particular, and developing therapies are usually first tested in mice. Mice are easy and fast to breed and share enough biology with us to make useful studies possible. But mice are not men (or women). Differences exist in cancer formation and particular genetic alterations can produce different tumor types in human and mouse. Early mouse models were frequently disappointing.
In recent years, the mouse genome has been completely sequenced and researchers have developed tricks to genetically engineer mice so that mouse cancers can accurately represent human cancers. More than ever, mice help us understand the molecular mechanisms of tumor formation because researchers can now control when and where cancer-causing changes occur. In “transgenic” mice, cancer-causing genes are abnormally turned on; in “knock-out” mice, tumor-suppressing genes are abnormally turned off.”
It’s not a position statement, but I’ll give them one star for trying. I should probably give the NMSS a low rating for their minimal statement, but because of their openness in discussing and explaining animal research elsewhere on their website I’ll give them a better score on quality.
5. National Multiple Sclerosis Society
– while the Policies and procedures page has reference to animal research being done under strict guidelines, there is no statement on the use of animals in research. This is a pity since the NMSS website frequently discusses the use of a wide variety of animal models in different areas on multiple sclerosis research, for example on its Collaborative Research Centers pages and in “Research Now”, a quarterly feature of the NMSS national magazine.
Overall – depressing doesn’t even begin to make the situation clear. The five largest health research charities, which fund millions of dollars on animal research every year, have no clear statements on the use of animals in research. For a couple of them it appears that they may simply not have got around to drafting a strong statement yet, as they are happy to discuss specific examples animal research they fund, but others risk giving the impression that their reliance on donations is at the source of this choice. Such unwillingness to be open about animal research carries significant risks. One risk is the public will be led to underestimate the contribution made by animal studies to past medical achievements and ongoing research (anyone reading the American Heart Associations Research Accomplishments page will see little indication of the crucial contributions animal studies made to most of these accomplishments) which can only serve to undermine public support for research that these charities clearly consider vital. They also risk being accused by animal rights supporters of concealing the nature of their research from potential donors.
These 5 – and other major US research charities – could do worse than to follow the example from the UK, where several important research charities have begun to change their approach and become more onen about the need for and importance of the animal research they fund. The top 4 medical research charities in the UK, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Reserch UK, British Heart Foundation and Arthritis Research UK all have strong statements on animal research, and indeed we have blogged on the willingness of Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation to pubicize research that requires the use of animals. While there is no doubt that many medical research charities in the UK still need to do a lot more to explain to the public why the animal research they support is vital to medical progress, and what policies are in place to evaluate and regulate it, they have at least made a good start. Will US charities follow their example?
The American Cancer Society at least had a phone statement ready, I will be following up with all five societies to find out why there is no online statement – expect to hear more from Speaking of Research soon.