Tag Archives: Personalized medicine

For Life on Earth – The Birth of Another Pseudoscience Organisation

Who are FLOE?

There is a new British animal rights group on the scene called “For Life on Earth” or FLOE for short. Founded by Louise Owen, who has worked with both Medical Research Modernisation Committee and Seriously Ill Against Vivisection (both now defunct), the website seems almost an advertising tool for the various writings of Ray Greek and Niall Shanks (There are no shortage of Amazon links on the site and recommendations that you “buy it now”), with typical pseudoscience about how animal research is no longer necessary.

A professionally finished video on the front page (above) informs us that since we don’t take ourselves down the vet, or our pets to a hospital, that “common sense” would suggest research cannot cross species lines. It is worth noting that veterinarians deal with a variety of different species (so much for not crossing species lines), furthermore, the One Health Initiative DOES aim to get greater collaboration between veterinary and human medicine due to their overwhelming similarity. The Zoobiquity website discusses many aspects of the similarity between human and animal treatments.

The video goes on to suggest that personalised medicine offers opportunities for “treatments [that] are tailor made for you and you alone, for your unique genetic makeup”. Again, they negate to note the huge influence  and growing role of animals in personalized medicine (such as the creation of mouse avatars which are injected with a person’s tumour cells so as to find the specific treatments that will work for that person). I also recommend reading our earlier post “When Personalised Medicine and Animal Research Meet”.

The video finishes with the curious phrase:

“We at For Life on Earth present science illustrated by “Animal models in light of evolution””

This makes me wonder if the whole website is not simply a straight marketing tool by Greek and Shanks’ publishers.

Much of the website revolves around Ray Greek’s regular writings (often on “Opposing Views”) that assert that animal models are not predictive. In reply, you should read a great post by Dario Ringach, an excerpt of which can be found below:

Researchers create models of disease in animals by trying to replicate what they believe are the essential components at play. These animal models can then be used to generate predictions for therapeutic interventions, which can then be tested in human clinical trials. If a prediction is falsified, so is that specific animal model of the disease.

When this happens, scientists seek to understand how the data depart from the prediction, what factors were ignored that might play a role, and use prior knowledge and intuition to develop a better, improved model. In the course of developing and refining such a model, scientists will go through many such cycles. A model is expected to be valid if and only if it captures all the key ingredients of the human condition.

The fact that one can postulate inaccurate animal models of human disease does not invalidate the whole methodology of animal research, it merely shows the work is difficult. But animal models can in fact be successful.

So what are the aims of FLOE?

For Life on Earth (FLOE) - Animal Research Science

“For Life on Earth is committed to making this level of science debate happen. Our objective is to ensure that such debates are broadcast live on television, via a platform such as BBC’s Newsnight or Question Time, both being suitable for the seriousness of such an important topic, and able to incorporate audience participation.“

It is a common claim among animal rights groups that there is no debate. In Britain, over the last 11 years, there have been four independent enquiries about animal research: House of Lords Select Committee (2002), Animal Procedures Committee (2003), Nuffield Council on Bioethics (2005) and the Weatherall Report (2006). On television there has been one Newsnight debate (below) on the scientific merits of animal research between Michelle Thew (BUAV) and Professor Tipu Aziz. Perhaps Ray Greek is simply frustrated that his fellow anti-viv organisation chose not to put up a scientist, but rather their own CEO. Question Time would not fit For Life on Earth’s vision of a scientific debate; as it is a current issues discussion programme dominated by the 3 partisan political panellists (of 5 total) that rarely discusses scientific issues. An animal research debate would be held in short sound bites, with political panellists trying to get the biggest applause. In terms of other opportunities for debate, Dr Greek himself has debated against scientists like Dr Michael Conn on CNN (contrary to the website’s assertion that such debates have never happened).

“For Life on Earth will focus on the most efficient routes by which to advertise the fact that veterinary principles must not be applied to ill, or critically ill humans. An effective pressure campaign, coordinated with the help of the international community, can then help to ensure that legislative decisions made by governments implement current scientific knowledge.”

This straw man argument suggests that current biomedical methods are based on veterinary principles. While there are some similarities between veterinary and clinical medicine (they both try to make ‘animals’ better), there are also clear differences. Given the overwhelming majority of scientists are in support of animal-based research, perhaps FLOE should not be so confident about explaining what “current scientific knowledge” entails. Modern animal research remains at the cutting edge of scientific discovery.

Wait, who are For Life on Earth again?

Well this is where things get interesting. FLOE is registered to a virtual London address through the company British Monomarks. This is not remarkable in itself, until you discover the host of other animal rights organisations that also use this same company for a virtual mailing address.

WC1N 3XX FLOEFLOE are in the company of the Animal Liberation Front Press Office and Supporters Group (offering support to jailed animal rights extremists). They also share their address with the Gateway to Hell campaigns and SHAC – who have a long history of animal rights extremists in their ranks. One wonders what individual connections draw these same organisations to use the same virtual address company.

Overall, For Life on Earth shows all the signs of being another antivivisection, pseudoscientific organisation. I guess it’s another excuse to get out the Animal Rights Bingo.

Speaking of Research

Addenum 13th May 2013

FLOE have removed the address from their website since this article was posted. Click the image below to see a cached version of the website for evidence.

For Life on Earth Address

The First Decade of the Human Genome: What’s on the Horizon?

To mark the 10th anniversary of the sequencing of the human genome the BBC aired a documentary yesterday evening entitled “Miracle cure: a decade of the human genome” that can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.  It was an enjoyable look at what has been accomplished since the famous announcement at the White House in June 2000, and while I think the program could have done with exploring some of the science in more depth, it gave a good overview and didn’t shrink from the sheer complexity of many of the questions that face scientists who are now attempting to understand the genome.

Sophie Longton holds a vial containing a gene therapy treatment that may one day cure her of cystic fibrosis. Image Courtesy of the BBC.

The program followed three individuals as they sought to understand what impact the knowledge gained from studying the genome could have on illnesses that have affected them, breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, and alcoholism, and what basic, applied, and clinical research is currently underway. The case of a woman whose breast cancer is linked to a defective BRCA1 gene turned to discussion of the potential for the development of personalized medicine – treatments that are tailored to the genetic makeup of an individual patient’s cancer cells. Animal research plays a very important role in the development of targeted therapies that can be used in personalized medicine, and an early example of this is the drug Herceptin, which is used to treat cancers that express the HER2 gene.

The cystic fibrosis thread focussed on the development of gene therapy and clinical trials now underway under the direction of Professor Eric Alton of the UK Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Consortium. These gene therapy trials use lipid spheres to transport working copies of the CFTR gene – defective in cystic fibrosis – to the lungs of patients, and the particular lipid formulation used in these trials, known as  GL67A was selected after careful evaluation against other candidates, first in CF mice and then in sheep (1).  Mice models of cystic fibrosis have helped researchers to understand more about the disease and to assess therapies, but until very recently research has been hampered by the lack of a large animal model of cystic fibrosis that models the lung pathology of cystic fibrosis.  This situation finally changed in 2008 when scientists at the Universities of Iowa and Missouri produced genetically modified pigs that lack the CFTR gene and develop all the pathologies that are characteristic of cystic fibrosis in humans. This new animal model for cystic fibrosis will be very useful for evaluating the safety and efficiency of new gene therapy techniques as the science advances.

Finally the thread on the influence on genetics on alcoholism was a reminder of just how complex the interaction between an array of genetic variations and the environment can be, and that while it may be possible to identify factors that predispose an individual towards a particular condition it is often difficult, if not impossible, to identify a single cause that tips the balance. Considering the enormous damage caused to society by addiction, and the high failure rate of addiction treatment programs, there is no doubt that addiction research is a neglected area within biomedical science.  This is sad because research into the physiological underpinnings of addiction can aid the development of more effective treatment programs. Hopefully the identification of genes that predispose certain individuals to addiction will help society to realise that science can make an important contribution to solving this medical and social problem.

Paul Browne

1)       Griesenbach U, Alton EW; UK Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Consortium. “Gene transfer to the lung: lessons learned from more than 2 decades of CF gene therapy.” Adv Drug Deliv. Rev. Volume 61(2), Pages 128-39 (2009) DOI: 10.1016/j.addr.2008.09.010.

Herceptin: When personalized medicine and animal research meet.

Personalized medicine is very popular among medical researchers these days, and it’s not hard to see why. By tailoring treatment to fit an individual patient, for example by using information about their genetic makeup, scientists hope to make treatments more effective while at the same time avoiding or minimizing adverse effects.

Anti-vivisectionist Dr. Greek writes about personalized medicine as if one could do this work without relying on animal research at all.

For example, he writes:

When will personalized medicine become a reality?

We are already seeing it, with breast cancer being a prime example. Breast cancer treatment is now determined in part based on a patient’s genetic makeup. About 25-30 percent of breast cancer patients overexpress the HER2 oncogene, which is a gene involved in the development of cancer. The overexpression results in an increase in the replication of the cancer cells. Physicians are now able to identify which breast cancer patients overexpress HER2 and give them Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody that inhibits HER2

This is true…  but where did Herceptin come from?   Does he know?

Herceptin, a humanized mouse monoclonal antibody. Image courtesy of Andrey Ryzhkov.

The basic research that led to the development of Herceptin (Trastuzumab) goes back to work by Milstein and Kohler who discovered the potential for using antibodies to fight disease.    They developed the first methods to produce monoclonal antibodies using mice.   Both Milstein and Kohler went on to win the Nobel Prize partly for this work.

Harold Varmus (now back as Director of the National Cancer Institute) showed that disturbances in some gene families could turn the cells cancerous.  He also went on to win the Nobel Prize for this work.  Robert Weinberg subsequently discovered in rats that a mutant gene (named “neu”) encoding a tyrosine kinase promoted cancer features in cells, contributing to the development of neuroglioblastoma tumors.

Later, Axel Ullrich and collaborators at Genentech cloned the human HER2/neu gene.  Work at UCLA Dennis Slamon and colleagues showed HER2 over-expression in 25% of patients with aggressive breast cancer.

Through screening studies on monoclonal antibody candidates in vivo in mice implanted with HER-2 positive human tumors the group at Genentech then developed the mouse 4D5 (parent of Herceptin) and showed that 4D5 could suppress the growth of HER2 tumor cells as well as enhance the ability of the host immune system to kill them.   A collaboration between UCLA and Genentech then demonstrated that radio-labeled 4D5 localized to HER2-expressing tumors in both mice and human patients.

With the information obtained from animal experiments, Genentech created Herceptin by humanizing the 4D5 mouse antibody directed at HER2.   The ability of Herceptin to prevent tumor growth was then assessed in mice implanted with HER-2 positive human tumor xenografts, and the concentration of Herceptin required in the blood to achieve anti-tumor activity was determined before starting human clinical trials.

So, you see…  Herceptin was derived from a mouse antibody.

Let me repeat: a mouse antibody!

Clinical trials in humans subsequently showed the effectiveness of Herceptin to treat HER2 positive breast cancer.

Perhaps, Dr. Greek and other animal rights activists should carefully listen to the experts that were actually involved in the process of developing Herceptin (a drug he appears to thinks highly of) which, indeed, benefits so many women battling breast cancer.   A drug derived from mice, and developed in mice.

Here is what Robert Weinberg had to say about Dr. Greek’s views on research:

Dr. Greek says the silliest things, […] implying that people are not studying human tumors, and implying that the kinds of experiments that one can do in mice can be done as well in humans — truly mindless!

I couldn’t have said it better.

Dario Ringach