John Pranger: Will the lab rat really cure cancer?
By John Pranger
“People are very complacent with their animal models. But
this begs the question of whether there exists a good model of cancer.”
— Andy Maniotis (University of Iowa), American Journal of Pathology, 1999
Cancer! It’s our Grim Reaper, today’s Black Death, a dark and terrible health threat and destroyer of lives. We hear about it, read about it, and fear it more deeply than any other present disease. Ominously, projections indicate that one in every five of us will die of cancer, and 40 percent of us will have a diagnosis of cancer sometime in life. Considering that there are more than 200 different forms of human cancer alone, the hope for a “magic bullet” that will cure all is just pie in the sky.
The disease first went political in 1971, when the Nixon administration declared the “War on Cancer”. We all know the war has not yet been won, even with billions poured into it every year. In fact, cancer deaths have increased steadily.
This humiliating defeat is in large part due to our addiction to animal experimentation.
It is an open secret in scientific circles that animal-modeled biomedical research yields results that can’t safely and reliably be applied to humans. Yet it stonewalls and stubbornly persists, misleading doctors and diverting research grants that should be going to clinical (human-based) methods of curing disease.
Dr. Albert Sabin, famed developer of the polio vaccine, had this in mind when he said: “The cancer research bodies cause pain and suffering to hundreds of thousands of animals every year by inducing in the animals, through chemicals and irradiation, large cancerous growths in their bodies and in their limbs. Inflicting cancer on laboratory animals has not and will not help us to understand the disease or to treat those persons suffering from it...laboratory cancers have nothing in common with natural human cancers. Tumorous cells are not unrelated to the organism that produced them. Human cancers are greatly different from the artificial tumors caused by the experimenters in the laboratories.” (Vivisection Unveiled, by Tony Page [Jon Carpenter Publishing, 1997])
Repeatedly, distinguished outspoken authorities such as Dr. Sabin—respected, vested scientists—have insisted that assuming similarities in physiological and pharmacological response in different species is wrong, unscientific, and irresponsible. Nevertheless, testing chemicals for carcinogenicity in animals drunkenly persists, as governments and charities continue lavishing money on those trying out new anticancer medications on animals.
The years are filled with uncounted hope-inspiring “miracle drugs”—such as interferon, interleukin, and taxol—that worked well in animals, mostly mice. They were hyped to the public with great hullabaloo and promise, but when actually given to human patients they did not live up to expectations. Dr. LaMar McGinnis, an oncologist and medical consultant to the American Cancer Society, stated: “We thought interferon was ‘chicken soup’ in the early ’80s. I remember how excited everyone was; it seemed to work miracles in animals, but it didn’t work in humans.” Johanna Dwyer of Tufts University agreed: “The major problems of animal studies are the validity of cross-species comparisons and relevance to the human disease.” (Fundamental and Applied Toxicology, 1983)
Commenting on a media pronouncement of yet one more “fantastic breakthrough”, G. Timothy Johnson, medical editor for ABC News and WCVB-TV news in Boston, wrote in a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe, on May 22, 1998: “My own medical perspective is that animal cancer research should be regarded as the scientific equivalent of gossip—with about the same chance of turning out to be true, i.e. truly effective in humans. Some gossip turns out to be true, but most of it does not...and gossip can cause great anguish for those affected, in this case millions of desperate cancer patients worldwide.”
Animal experimentation can’t cure or prevent cancer, but personal responsibility can—people taking control of their destiny through prevention. Prevention isn’t glamorous and is viewed by some as not even scientific. We as people prefer to continue in our less healthful habits knowing that “Science” is at work on a cure for our dissipated systems. Plus, it must be said that prevention doesn’t finance the charities, the universities, and the institutes as animal experimentation does.
It is pointless and dangerous to continue following the old, worn-out paths, for the difference between animals and humans is so great that vivisection leads us mostly into error. The high standard of medical care we enjoy today was made possible not by animal vivisection but by clinical observation and research; antisepsis and hygiene; in vitro research with human tissue; post-marketing drug surveillance; serendipity; mathematical modeling; autopsies; computers; epidemiology; pathology; specialization of medical care; technology; genetics; basic science research in fields such as chemistry, mathematics and physics; and prevention.
But the momentum of non-human experimentation has such thrust, such habit, and such money behind it that it will die hard. For this reason, legislation banning animal testing may be required to halt its havoc. Perhaps only outlawing of animal research will have the force to contain the experimentation contagion.
John Pranger is the director of communications for the Animal Defense & Anti-Vivisection Society of British Columbia. For more information, see the Humane Charity Seal of Approval, Dissection Alternatives, and Animalearn Web sites