Friday, 20 August 2010

Why animal testing isn't humanly acceptable

I HOPE Ben Gummer is ashamed of himself. If he isn’t, he should be.
In the run-up to the general election, hundreds of candidates were contacted by the Safer Medicines Trust.
Of the 64 who troubled to reply, 63 supported the trust’s campaign. The only one opposed to it was Gummer, who is now the MP for Ipswich.
Young Ben may have seen red at the very name of Tony Benn at the top of the campaign’s literature.
He may even have suffered an allergic reaction to Benn’s fellow patron, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party and now its one MP.
If he’d bothered to read down, though, he’d have seen support from all shades of the political spectrum. And, more pertinently, a wealth of scientific and medical support for the campaign against animal-testing of new drugs.
Not on anti-vivisectionist moral grounds – though I’d say those are pretty strong too – but because animal-testing is bad medicine. Very, very bad medicine.
The arthritis drug Vioxx has now been withdrawn. But not before it caused hundreds of thousands of heart attacks and strokes in people it had been prescribed to.
Vioxx had been thoroughly tested on animals. Results from those tests had led to the claim that it was actually good for the heart.
For the mouse heart, the rabbit heart, the monkey heart, maybe. For the human heart it was a huge disaster.
Current British law doesn’t just allow new drugs to be tested on animals. It insists on it.
The requirement was put in place in 1968 after the thalidomide disaster, in which a prescribed sedative led to thousands of babies being born with a variety of physical deformities. Of about 2,000 born in the UK, 466 survived (including actor Mat Fraser, the third SMT patron).
Ironically, thalidomide itself had passed a variety of animal tests, and probably still would.
A study two years ago revealed that a million people a year in Britain need hospital treatment for problems caused by prescribed drugs. That’s a lot of pain and trouble, as well as a £2billion annual bill.
And it’s not just cash and discomfort. It’s a matter very much of life and death.
The number of people killed by Vioxx has been put at 140,000. And that, though it may be the worst, is only one example.
Staggeringly, reaction to prescription medicines is now listed as the fourth highest cause of death in the western world.
And all those prescribed killers were tested on animals before being administered to humans.
The easiest conclusion to draw is that the only animal you can use for accurate testing of a drug’s effect on humans is a human.
But how safe is that?
Remember those six young men who nearly died in 2006 after being human guinea-pigs in tests for a new anti-inflammatory drug?
It didn’t help that the drug had earlier proved perfectly safe – for monkeys.
Science and technology has moved on since 1968, particularly in the field of human biology.
It’s no longer necessary to endanger actual humans to see how they will react to drugs.
Computer modelling, microdosing, DNA “chips” and human tissue, from individual cells to surgical “waste”, all provide safe, more reliable ways of testing drugs than trying them out on other creatures.
The Safer Medicines Trust is not – yet – calling for animal-testing to be banned. What the campaigners want first is a proper independent comparison between the new technologies and the old methods.
Between advances in human biology and inhumane, irrelevant, and potentially fatally misleading testing on animals.
That is what will be called for by the cross-party private member’s Safety of Medicines Bill, first put to Parliament last month and due for its second reading in October.
MP David Amess, who proposed the Bill, said: “If replacing animal tests could benefit drug safety, who could fail to be happy?”
Ben Gummer, apparently. A man who, as author of a book on the Black Death, ought to have some insight into death, disease and how ignorance can compound them.
David Amess – Mr Gummer, please note – is the Conservative MP for Southend West.


How Wayne Rooney gets ahead in maths

YOU might not have guessed it from the World Cup (or from Monday’s performance against Newcastle), but Wayne Rooney is supposed to be good with his head.
According to Marcus du Sautoy, each time he goes to meet a cross into the opposition penalty-area, Rooney rapidly solves the quadratic equation x=b+√b2-4ac/2a in order to meet the flight of the ball.
Maybe that’s what went wrong with Wazza in South Africa. Perhaps he read Professor Du Sautoy’s book The Number Mysteries. Since when his head has been full of maths instead of instinct whenever he’s tried to redirect a ball with it.
It might be an interesting question whether Oxford egghead Du Sautoy is better at football than Rooney is at maths, or vice versa.
Or indeed whether The Number Mysteries (or Num8er My5steries as it appears on the horrible cover), though undoubtedly better written, will ever catch Rooney’s wittily titled My Story in the graph of figures for sales.

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