|Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.|
Hope Against Hype. Animal Experiments to Cure Cancer?
The prospect of a cure for cancer has yet again been hitting the headlines in the last month.
Two new drugs which appear to kill tumours by cutting off their blood supply have been tested in mice with apparent effect. Although many of the articles describing this "breakthrough" have noted the obstacles still facing this treatrment, the tone of the media reaction has been the usual "cancer cure on the way." Meanwhile, more animal tests appear to indicate that a single gene is responsible for the development of lung cancer.
One scientist - not directly connected with the research - claimed that the US research on killing tumours could lead to a "cure for cancer within two years", a claim so outrageous even the cancer research community disowned it. The gap between a treatment that appears successful in laboratory animals and a usable clinical therapy is, of course, enormous. About five years ago another substance that cut off the blood supply to tumours in mice, flavone acetic acid, generated similar hopes. It did not work in human beings. This one may work, of course - despite the many differences between mouse and human tumours, the physiological differences between humans and mice, differing conditions outside the laboratory from within it, the possibility of serious side effects not detected in animal studies, the differing requirements for dosage and administration in human beings and commercial pressures that prevent many treatments from reaching the market. If it does, we'll be happy to read about it then.
The lung cancer research, which took place in Scotland, involved the application of tobacco chemicals to the skin of mice. By knocking out just one gene the researchers found the likelihood of the mice developing cancer increased dramatically. This discovery, if it applies to human beings, suggests the possibility of a technique of screening for susceptibility for lung cancer, or even of genetic manipulation to prevent it.
80-90% of lung cancers are associated with smoking. Human beings, however, continue to smoke. Mice do not.
Uncaged Campaigns 29.05.98
Experiments on rats have been undertaken in the attempt to find a "cure" for obesity.
The New Scientist (16/5/98) reports that injections of "fat-busting" antibodies have caused weight loss in obese rats, even when they were fed on a diet of milk chocolate and peanuts. Injections under the skin of pigs has produced leaner bacon. Obesity is another serious medical problem. It is uncommon among vegetarians.
Uncaged Campaigns 29/05/98
Leading xenotransplantation researchers Imutran held a press briefing in April to discuss their plans for the future.
The briefing, which included a contribution from Prof Robin Weiss, an immunologist who has warned of the dangers of virus transfer, painted a picture of prudence. They are currently undertaking a retrospective study of patients who have received pig tissues, such as skin grafts, to look for evidence of infection in humans by porcine viruses. If this should produce no evidence of infection they hope to commence a trial involving pig liver cells outside the body, similar to those which have been undertaken in the USA. They also hope to undertake kidney transplantation, but were noncommittal about the timing, finally suggesting five years down the line when pressed by journalists.
In 1995 Imutran claimed they were ready to proceed to human trials in early 1996. In October of last year, Alistair Currie of Xenotransplantation Concern attended a meeting at which one of the surgeons involved in the research said they could proceed to trials "next week" if the government would permit them. From the point of view of human welfare their new found caution is welcome: unfortunately it is likely to lead to much more animal suffering in the course of pursuing the increasingly unlikely possibility that xenotransplantation will ever provide an effective therapy.
Uncaged Campaigns 29.05.98
It has come to light that Imutran, the UK's leading xenotransplantation researcher, has been conducting research in a controversial animal laboratory in Holland, and that it recently exported a transgenic pig to the laboratory where its organs have been harvested and transplanted into monkeys.
The work being conducted at the Biomedical Research Centre (BPRC) appears to involve the testing of immunosuppressant regimes, and has been conducted since at least November 1997 using non-transgenic pigs and macaques. A transgenic pig (accompanied by a companion animal, slaughtered on arrival) was flown to Amsterdam in early May, both of its kidneys being removed after slaughter and transplanted into two macaques whose own kidneys had been removed.
It appears that Imutran are attempting to circumvent the relatively tough regulation that applies to their experimental procedures in the United Kingdom - why else would they undertake such an expensive exercise for procedures that appear to be the same as those conducted in this country? The Animal Procedures Committee has explicitly stated that it is willing to delay the progress of research on animal welfare grounds and a representative of Imutran admitted in 1997 that British regulations have sometimes prevented them from concluding experiments as they would wish - ie they have not been permitted to keep animals alive indefinitely who are suffering substantially.
BPRC has, incidentally, been criticised by groups such as the RSPCA for the condition in which its primates are kept. This latest development serves to emphasise how low a priority animal welfare actually takes in this research.
Uncaged Campaigns 26.06.98
Beleagured Hillgrove Farm at Witney does not even enjoy the support of local residents. A phone poll conducted by the local newspaper found 95% of callers supporting the call for it to be closed, and local residents have been complaining that the expense of policing demonstrations at the farm has led to a reduction in police crime-fighting in the area.
Meanwhile (as they say) documents obtained by the Hillgrove Campaign have revealed the extent of animal suffering taking place behind the barricades. The records appear to show cats forced to breed twice a year, an unnaturally high "wastage" rate of kittens (10% dying or being killed by their mothers before sale) and the sale of kittens under 8 weeks old. Farmer Brown has explicitly denied that kittens that young are ever sold - he has also claimed that 80% of the animals he sells are used in the development of animal vaccines but the circumstantial evidence is strong that they are also being used at Oxford University in neurological experiments, as well as at other universities which do not undertake veterinary research.
The next Hillgrove Demo will take place on 11th July: meet at 12 noon, Leys Recreation Ground, Station Lane (next to Sainsbury's), Witney, Oxon.
Uncaged Campaigns 26.06.98
The answer to a parliamentary question put by Norman Baker MP has revealed that wild-caught baboons have been used in xenotransplantation research.
A previous answer by George Howarth of the Home Office, had admitted that wild-caught baboons were still being used in experiments despite the need for "exceptional and specific justifications" for their use. Baboons are the most advanced primate permitted to be used for research in the UK. Pursuing this answer, Norman Baker asked what these justifications were. The answer, to Written Question no 176, asserted that baboons had to be used as no other permitted primate was large enough, and sufficient quantities of captive-bred baboons were not available, despite "extensive efforts" by the research team to obtain them from captive sources.
The baboons appear to have been used in heart transplant surgery, as part of the xenotransplantation research programme, presumably by Imutran, who are the only researchers undertaking this kind of work in the UK at present. The suffering of these animals is profound, as they undergo major surgery and then the consequences of trasnsplant. Imutran's published research suggests that their experimental subjects tend to survive periods of weeks following surgery, before, presumably, dying of complications related to the transplant.
That such suffering should be permitted to be inflicted on any animals for so speculative a prospect as xenotransplantation is an indictment of the 1986 Act. That it should be inflicted on animals on top of the distress of being caught in the wild and transported to this country is profoundly shocking.
Uncaged Campaigns 04.06.98
The price of shares in animal testing laboratory Huntingdon Life Sciences hit a spectacular low of 15 pence each last month - having been at 124p just over a year ago. HLS has been implicated in examples of specific animal cruelty in undercover investigations in both the USA and UK, most famously in the Channel 4 documentary It's a Dog's Life, screened last year.
HLS were investigated by the Home Office following the documentary last year and threatened with removal of their licence. They were given certain conditions to fulfil in order to avoid that possibility, and did so. The - far from demanding - conditions related to issues such as staff training. The individuals featured in the film were ceremoniously scapegoated, being fired by the company and being prosecuted for "cruelly terrifying dogs." Even given that the Home Office obviously support animal experiments their apparent assumption that it is possible to employ people to inflict pain on animals on a day-to-day basis without them becoming callous or cruel is breathtakingly naive.
HLS' share price has been declining pretty steadily since the documentary. Major shareholder Robert Fleming Holdings sold its 15% share in HLS in June, a move which followed the withdrawal of a number of HLS' major clients, such as Glaxo Wellcome and Smith & Nephew. While, obviously, these companies will simply have moved their animal testing contracts elsewhere, the company appears to be suffering the same kind of scapegoating from the vivisection community as their employees suffered from them.
The company lost £7.2 million in 1997, and are also contemplating having to redeem bonds in 2006 which they issued in 1991 and are now worth far more than the company itself. Chief Executive Christopher Cliffe claims to be "quietly confident" about the company's future.
Uncaged Campaigns 30.07.98
A Scottish researcher injected lung and gut parasites into ninety cows in an unlicenced experiment, and when they started dying simply added more numbers. Eventually 45 animals died, the experienced researcher from Glasgow Veterinary School failing to appoint a vet or anyone at all to take responsibility for their welfare.
The Sheriff trying the case accepted the defence's argument that the researcher involved was suffering from depression and sentenced him to 120 hours of community service, rather than the six month prison sentence the law allows.
If a herd of cows receives so little protection from the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, what chance have the millions of mice and rats experimented on behind closed laboratory doors?
Uncaged Campaigns 30.07.98
Bantan & Kingman, a commercial breeder of animals for laboratories has made a planning application to expand their facilities in East Yorkshire. Their plans include extensions to the animals facility, storage sheds and a sheep barn, and include the removal of some trees.
Those concerned that the developments will be to the detriment of local amenities, may be in conflict with local planning policies and may lead to animal rights protests which may inconvenience the local community can register their objections with:
Application numbers 342/1000/2C; 342/1000/2D; 342/1000/2A; 98/01248/PLC. As usual, complaints from local residents carry the most weight.
Uncaged Campaigns 30.07.98
Extrapolation from figures released earlier this year about the "wastage" of animals in Ministry of Defence laboratories shows that the death toll in British laboratories must be between six and eight million animals per year. This is the first reliable estimate of the total number of deaths, as the deaths of animals not used in experiments are not recorded by the Home Office.
John Chisholm, chief executive of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (ie Porton Down) revealed to Norman Baker MP that DERA kills somewhere between two and three times the number of animals it actually uses in experiments, and claimed that this proportion was "in line with commercial operation." As 2.7 million animal procedures are conducted in the UK each year (a figure roughly analogous to the number of "experimental" deaths, although even this is not actually recorded) the national figure must therefore be between six and eight million.
Mr Chisholm explained that strict experimental requirements such as the age, weight or sex of animals could lead to animals being unsuitable for experimentation. It has been well known for some time that more animals are bred in and for laboratories than are actually used, and that these "surplus" animals were killed.
The horrifying extent of this death toll is further proof that, whatever the claims to the contrary, animals are nothing but tools in the laboratory: those unused in experiments are simply expenses to be minimised, at the cost of their lives. And we must never forget that those unused animals are the lucky ones.
Uncaged Campaigns 01.04.98