Image taken from CBC.
Last year faculty and students from the Law School at Dalhousie submitted a freedom of information application to the university, asking for statistics concerning animals used in research over a 5 year period. This application was based on a similar FOI request submitted to Queen’s University, but whereas Queen’s continues to resist sharing information about the numbers and species of animals it uses, and the category of invasiveness of the procedures inflicted upon them, Dalhousie chose to release this information last month.1 Dalhousie should be commended for doing so, and for joining the growing number of Canadian universities recognizing their moral obligation to make this information available to the public. (Public disclosure is routine practice in the US and Europe.)
The use of animals in research and education is scientifically, pedagogically, and ethically contentious. There is growing public unease about inflicting deprivation, pain and suffering on animals in the name of science. This reflects both increasing concern about animal welfare/rights, as well as increasing knowledge about the ‘translation failure’ in biomedical research – i.e., the overwhelming failure of findings based on animal models to translate into human-relevant knowledge or therapies. There is a compelling public interest in being able to monitor the use of animals, and to conduct independent oversight of biomedical research.
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(Picture taken from the NIH website.)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), primary funder of biomedical research in the US, is reviewing its policy on human-animal chimera research. In light of the abject failure of animal ‘models’ of disease to translate into treatments for human subjects, some researchers are chasing a new holy grail: the possibility of engineering animals with enough human genetic material to make them better models for human pathologies. This research involves appalling pain and suffering for animals, and the prospect of millions more sacrificed on the altar of medical science until such time as this new enterprise is revealed, like much previous animal research, to be a hollow promise.
The NIH is inviting comments on their policy here. For an excellent discussion of human-chimera research and the NIH policy, see this blog posted on the Hastings Bioethics Forum.
A lab mouse used for testing. Photo courtesy of Rama, Creative Commons.
A recent Animals in Science Policy Institute press release indicates that the number of animals used for science research in Canada increased by 24% according to the latest annual report released by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. This dramatic annual increase demonstrates the hollowness of the research community’s professed commitment to replacing the use of animals with new technologies and approaches. The largest increases are for fish, birds and non-human primates.
We know that Queen’s University is one of the last Canadian universities to do experiments on non-human primates (NHPs) such as monkeys. No wonder Queen’s has repeatedly refused to disclose information about its research on NHPs (and other animals), since it would have to explain to the public why these numbers continue to increase, when other institutions are shutting down NPR research altogether. In refusing to disclose information, Queen’s insists that the statistics are too “sensitive” (i.e. the public would be upset by them), and that the numbers need to be put into “context”. (Of course there is nothing stopping Queen’s from providing “context”, or explaining its rationale for harming and killing animals.) We can only surmise that the University is terrified of any outside scrutiny of their research programs.
In the growing climate of public concern for treatment of non-human animals, and insistence that their use be ethically and scientifically justified, Queen’s knows that some of its research activities simply wouldn’t pass muster.
For more on this story, see “Latest stats show whopping increase in animals used for Canadian science” in the National Observer.