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Interviews: Jarrod Bailey on GM animals
The massive production of genetically modified animals, especially mice, has led to much hype in the media about prospective cures for a whole range of human conditions. However, new genetic data suggests that mouse models may not be relevant for studying human disease.
Following the completion of his PhD in viral genetics in 1998 at Newcastle University, England, Jarrod Bailey spent seven years as a senior postdoctoral research associate examining the causes of premature birth in humans, using human tissue samples. During this time he developed an interest in the relevance and validity of animal experiments to human disease, and now opposes all forms of experimentation in which animals are used as surrogate humans to model human diseases, based on the amount of human harm that has been caused by our reliance upon them.In the last couple of years, he has authored and co-authored reviews outlining the futility of the use of animals to test for substances that can cause birth defects and cancer, and of using chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates in various forms of medical research; he authored Animal Aid’s ‘‘Man or Mouse’‘ report that describes the redundancy of using genetically modified animals to research diseases such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, among others; and was a chief author of a petition submitted in late 2007 by a coalition of organisations to the Food and Drug Administration, requesting that it requires scientists to use non-animal methods in research and testing in place of animal methods. He has just completed a paper evaluating the role of chimpanzees in the development of AIDS vaccines, and is currently working on scientific projects examining the role of chimpanzee research in a variety of other areas including cancer and heart disease; following up media reports of promised medical ‘‘breakthroughs’‘ based on animal experiments that failed to materialise; and following up failures and adverse reactions to prescription drugs that have been tested in animals.He also spends much of his time communicating the scientific basis of opposition to vivisection to the public, politicians of the UK and European parliaments and other scientists by means of interviews, public lectures and debates, as an Honorary Research Associate at the University of Newcastle, a Senior Research Scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in Washington DC, and the Science Director of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.
Antidote Europe (AE): Dr Bailey, you are one of the very few scientists in the UK who has been courageous enough to speak out against animal experimentation. Could you briefly describe the path that led you to challenge such an established dogma and the sort of resistance that you encountered along the way? Does the term “institutional intimidation” mean anything to you?
Jarrod Bailey (JB): Like many people, scientists included, I’d never really thought critically about the relevance of animal research – always passively accepting without question that it had to be valid and productive. But the seeds of doubt were first sown when I attended conferences to present my work on premature labour. While my research used tissue obtained from consenting women, other scientists were addressing the same problem using pregnant mice, rats, sheep and a variety of non-human primates. Significant differences were apparent between these species – notably, for example, in terms of hormone levels as labour progresses; which led me to wonder why these animals were being used, often in experiments involving significant suffering, instead of widely available human tissue samples.
This sparked my interest in the use of animals in research generally, and the more I read and learned, the more I realised that animal models were used not due to any tangible relevance to human medicine, but due to habit. This is demonstrably so in all areas of science and medicine, from cancer to AIDS, stroke and heart disease to diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases to the development and testing of new drugsâ€¦ad nauseam. This epiphany led me to make the most important decision of my life so far – to leave active laboratory-based research and devote my future career to revealing the truth about animal experimentation, and being part of a long overdue critical analysis of its validity and relevance to human medicine.
One would have thought this is a laudable undertaking, to be supported by everyone. The best and most productive research is in everyone’s interest; regardless of anyone’s views on animal experiments, we are all at risk of contracting life-changing and life-threatening diseases and seeing our loved ones suffer from the same. However, simply by questioning and voicing concerns over the efficacy of animal research we have been vilified by its most ardent supporters (frequently those who practise it) and by pressure groups funded by the industries and institutions that profit from it – and their accusations have included the charge that we are dismissive of human suffering, and would see an end to animals in labs regardless of any human cost. This is plain nonsense – the many scientists and medics that object to animal research or at the very least harbour serious doubts about it are as pro-science and medical progress as anyone – I would argue more so – and the irony is that the very essence of scientific inquiry involves critical reflection on the methods used; something pro-vivisectionists vehemently object to.
While the university to which I have been affiliated in various ways for almost twenty years since my undergraduate days has been very supportive of my right to conduct such critical scientific evaluations, this cannot be said for many other institutions and organisations. I have seen university vice-chancellors attempt to obstruct scientific debates on animal experimentation; salaried pro-vivisectionists attempting to have my university contract terminated by bad-mouthing me to colleagues and the pro-vice chancellor at my university, and writing to UK members of parliament to ask them to remove their names from a petition seeking more scientific evaluations of animal models. It seems that supporters of vivisection are running scared of scientific scrutiny of it. If they were truly confident of its utility and necessity, they would welcome it with open arms.
AE: The massive production of genetically modified animals, especially mice, has led to much hype in the media about prospective cures for a whole range of human conditions. However, new genetic data suggests that mouse models may not be relevant for studying human disease. As a geneticist, how would you comment on this?
JB: The results of experiments with genetically modified (GM) animals provide sufficient argument against their use. A report I wrote for Animal Aid in 2005 entitled ‘Man or Mouse?’ illustrated the folly of this approach: it highlights cystic fibrosis (CF) and Alzheimer’s disease research – in which the biggest intellectual and financial investments in mouse models have been made – to illustrate the myriad ways genetically-modified animals fail to mirror human conditions. For example, while cystic fibrosis affects the pancreas in almost all human sufferers and kills via lung infections, mice with supposedly ‘identical’ genetic mutations to human CF patients do not show these effects. Instead they die early from intestinal blockages, which are themselves not seen in humans. Similarly, GM mice with ‘identical’ brain pathology to human Alzheimer’s disease (AD) sufferers show no or only slight AD symptoms. They also fail to shed light on the function of genes strongly linked with the human condition. And GM animal models of other human diseases, such as Parkinson’s and diabetes, have also failed.
Frustratingly, these wholesale failures should be of no surprise to anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of genetics and molecular biology. Small changes in genes can result in enormous differences in biology and physiology; the position of genes on a chromosome, the nature of neighbouring DNA, the cellular environment in which the genes are placed and many other variables affect gene function greatly – meaning that one cannot simply transfer a gene into or recreate a specific genetic mutation in another individual, let alone a completely different species, and expect similar results. Recent research has illustrated this in some detail, revealing that, of genes known to be essential in humans, almost one quarter are not essential in mice. This is astounding, and should have serious ramifications for research involving GM animals. Quite simply, GM animals are not good models for human diseases and are not fit for purpose. Yet again, we see millions of pounds/dollars/Euro being wasted on irrelevant and futile animal models.
AE: In a petition filed on 14 November 2007 with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an international coalition of scientists and doctors sought to compel the agency to stem the flood of dangerous drugs reaching American consumers by mandating the use of scientifically superior non-animal testing methods when those alternatives exist (in line with EU legislation – article 7.2 of 86/609/EEC). Could you update us on this initiative?
JB: Despite the availability of numerous suitable alternatives, animal testing is still in most instances the default expectation by the FDA and drug and chemical companies. Neither the FDA nor the companies it regulates have demonstrated significant progress toward developing or adopting human-specific methods to improve drug testing accuracy and replace cruel animal testing, which has contributed not only to the very high failure rate of drugs in clinical testing, but to the approval of dangerous drugs and the occurrence of hundreds of thousands of deaths annually from adverse drug reactions.
Clearly, the FDA could be doing much more to replace animal tests with superior non-animal methods, which is why we have asked them to be more assertive and to show leadership in this regard. Our petition was filed over six months ago, which is the time limit for the FDA to provide an official response to it. In the past few weeks, the FDAcontacted the coalition to advise that senior FDA representatives were looking at it closely and seriously, to the point that extra time was requested in order to allow them to consider it more carefully and to respond more fully and informatively. We hope that this is a case of ‘No news is good news!’
AE: Could you tell us something of your most recent projects?
JB: Among other things, I am still very much involved in the New England Anti-Vivisection Society’s (NEAVS) ‘Project R&R: Release and Restitution for chimpanzees in U.S. laboratories,’ which aims to end invasive research using chimpanzees in the only remaining country in world in which it still takes place — the United States. This project has resulted in scientific papers detailing: the poor relevance and utility of publications describing invasive chimpanzee experiments with regard to human medical progress; the failure of chimpanzees in the development of an effective human AIDS vaccine; and the psychological trauma chimpanzees suffer due to their confinement in laboratories and the procedures they are subjected to. Currently, a bill is proceeding through U.S. congress with impressive and growing political support that aims to bring an end to chimpanzee research and realise their permanent retirement to sanctuaries where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace and safety. As a research scientist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), I was a major author for the Mandatory Alternatives to the FDA mentioned earlier, and am currently involved in a project comparing and contrasting the toxic effects of drugs in animals and humans, with a view to changing drug development protocols and moving the process away from unnecessary and dangerous animal use. I also recently submitted evidence to a European Commission consultation on alternatives to the use of nonhuman primates in research and product-safety testing.
AE: What thoughts not covered in this interview would you like to share with our readers in your closing remarks?
JB: Those of us who oppose animal experimentation are getting closer each day to achieving our aim, and realising an end to it. Though we still face many battles against self-interest, corporate power, the status quo and simple human inertia and resistance to change, the truth about vivisection is irresistible. More people than ever are learning the reality of life for animals in labs; the cruelty involved in their incarceration, in depriving them of the ability to follow their natural behaviours and instincts, and in the procedures they are subjected to. People now know about the scientific failings of vivisection and the enormous human harm that has come from it – failures in virtually every field of medicine including cancer, AIDS, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, among many others. This all means that companies and institutions that conduct animal experiments, and the vivisectors themselves, are having to justify themselves more than ever before; their justifications are under more scrutiny than ever before; and we’re seeing tangible effects of all of this in public attitudes to vivisection, political interest in moving away from animal experiments and supporting the 3Rs, and also in the transition of our opponents’ reactions from ignoring us, through ridiculing us to now fighting us. The next step, as Ghandi so famously stated, is that we win. It may take longer than we’d hope, but it’s starting to happen.