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Reference Desk February 2013

Animal Research Ethics: Evolving Views and Practices

    Februrary 12, 2013 — The scientific and ethical debate over the use of animals in medical research has raged for years, but perspectives are shifting, viewpoints are becoming more nuanced, and new initiatives are seeking alternatives to animal testing, according to a special report by The Hastings Center, "Animal Research Ethics: Evolving Views and Practices." The report is available on a new Web site, a hub of educational information that defines and interprets this changing landscape.

    These resources are the outcome of a project on the ethics of medical research with animals, which brought together people with different points of view and areas of expertise to share their knowledge and exchange ideas and insights. The project was led by Gregory Kaebnick, a research scholar at The Hastings Center; Thomas Murray, senior research scholar and President Emeritus; and Susan Gilbert, public affairs and communications manager.

    "Our goal was to produce educational resources for a wide audience, including biomedical researchers, scholars, students, institutional animal care and use committees, policymakers, and journalists who follow animal research issues," says Kaebnick.

    The special report, published with the Hastings Center Report, contains commentaries from the participants that cite examples of changes under way that are improving the welfare of animals in research and in some cases replacing them with alternative models.

    One example is the recent set of limitations on the use of chimpanzees in federally-funded research. Jeffrey Kahn, who chaired the Institute of Medicine committee that recommended the limitations, discusses their implications and the decision by the National Institutes of Health to implement them. "The policy changes represent a watershed in animal research policy," writes Kahn, the Robert Henry Levi and Ryada Hecht Levi Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy in the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. The recommendations "will impose the strongest restrictions to date on the use of any animal species for research in the United States, a major change in animal research policy in general."

    Another example of change is a "paradigm shift" in toxicology testing that aims to replace animals with a process that uses human cells to study a chemical's "pathway of toxicity." Traditionally, rats and mice have been used to study the toxicity of new chemicals before they are tested in humans, but these experiments require large number of animals, take years to complete, and predict human toxicity only 43 percent of the time, writes Joanne Zurlo, director of science strategy for the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She describes a new experimental approach that uses human cells to study a chemical's toxicity. "The paradigm shift in toxicology testing is the most significant force to date leading to the ultimate elimination of animal use for biomedical research and testing," Zurlo concludes.

    A commentary by Kathleen Conlee and Andrew Rowan, senior officials at the Humane Society of the United States, argues that phasing out invasive research on nonhuman primates must be a priority for ethical, scientific, and economic reasons. The authors state that most nonhuman primate research is unnecessary and animal maintenance is expensive, with the government spending $1 billion of its $32 billion annual budget on the nation's primate research centers.

    But Dr. D. Eugene Redmond, Jr., professor of psychiatry and neurosurgery at the Yale University School of Medicine, makes the case that nonhuman primates still play a vital role in key areas of medical research. Redmond, who studies Parkinson disease, says that the monkey model "is the best model we have and can predict benefits and side effects of new treatments."

    Other authors are Larry Carbone, a veterinarian specializing in the care of laboratory animals; Susan Kopp, a veterinarian and professor of health sciences in the veterinary technology program at LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York, and a scholar at the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics; Stephen R. Latham, director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics at Yale University; Joel Marks, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of New Haven and co-director of the animal ethics study group at Yale; and Bernard E. Rollin, university distinguished professor, professor of philosophy, animal sciences, and biomedical sciences, and university bioethicist at Colorado State University.

    Additional educational resources can be found on the Hastings animal research Web site, animalresearch.thehastingscenter.org, including statistics on the use of different animal species, alternative research models, links to other significant reports, animal studies programs, a selected and updated bibliography, and an interactive glossary of terms used in debates on research with animals that can have multiple meanings - such as the word "alternative." In the interest of fostering clear and civil discussion of the ethical controversies, The Hastings Center invites visitors to offer suggestions on the further development of the glossary.

    Source: Medical News Today

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