Which species are used for animal experiments?
André Menache (Antidote Europe): First of all, it is necessary to know in which cases animal testing is allowed. Regulation, i.e. animal experiments in laboratories represent between 20 and 25% of experiments, training and education less than 5%, and scientific research (basic and applied research) between 50 and 70%.
In France, between 3 and 4 million animals are used per year, so around 25% of this figure relates to animal experiments in laboratories. About 85% of animals are rodents, mostly mice. Non-rodent mammals include pigs (about 12,000 per year), dogs and monkeys (about 3,000 to 4,000 per species per year).
Why are these species used?
There are two very simple answers. In terms of basic and applied research, what happens mainly in universities and research institutions, rodents are used because it is much cheaper and it is much more practical. They live for two or three years, so you get your results much faster than if you had to wait for a monkey to reach adulthood. Mice are also mammals like humans, they are small, breed easily and are easy to house, so scientists are happy with that.
With regard to the regulations, i.e. the tests required by the regulations, it is necessary to study a little of the history of medicine. We go back to the trial of doctors in Nuremberg at the end of the Second World War, in 1946. It was decided to regulate human experiments because of what the Nazis had done.
Specifically, it was decided that before moving on to humans with clinical trials, the substances should be tested on two animal species, which must be a rodent and a non-rodent. The rodent is often the rat, and the non-rodent the dog or the monkey. The dog is for the classic drug, and the monkey, which is the animal closest to humans after the chimpanzee, for vaccines and drugs that have an effect on the immune system.
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At the time it seemed consistent to test on a rodent and on a larger mammal and therefore closer to humans to have more control. But we are now in 2022, 76 years later. Science has evolved! However, we are still stuck in the same regulation.
The dogs are mainly beagles. Why ?
The beagle is used because it is a very loving and very docile dog. Scientists can do almost anything to him, and the dog will always lick their hand. It is really a betrayal of our best friend… And besides today, I am glad that there are large public demonstrations against their breeding and their use in many countries.
What do we do with animals and what happens to them?
There are three levels of suffering recognized by the rules.
Easy procedures: for example, force-feeding beagle dogs with drugs and chemicals. When we want to test a drug, to make sure that the animal has swallowed it, we insert a probe directly into the stomach, without anesthesia or painkillers. If it is a drug to be taken three times a day, the animal will be force-fed three times a day, and these are often trials lasting up to three months. Even such a docile dog can’t take it anymore.
Moderate procedures: it is, for example, transplanting an organ from one animal to another, like transplanting a kidney from a pig to a monkey. It is not only the operation itself, but also the after effects, where the animal has to be kept alive for several months, which causes a lot of suffering.
Difficult procedures: they can lead to the animal’s death. It is, for example, an infection of the membranes of the brain due to meningitis. If the animal is lucky and we see that it is almost dead, it will be euthanized according to staff attendance schedules. But if it is the evening or the weekend, bad luck, he will suffer and die alone…
Then, almost all laboratory animals are euthanized at the end of the study. If we take the example of the marketing authorization, we force-fed these dogs for three months and at the end we have to euthanize them to examine all the organs to see if there are any injuries, side effects. Adoptions of animals at the end of the study are extremely rare.
⋙ USA: laboratory monkeys escaped from a truck found and euthanized
Why does animal testing continue?
This allows the pharmaceutical industry to obtain marketing authorization (MA) much faster than if it underwent tests based solely on human material (human cell cultures, organs on a chip, etc.)
However, these technologies are very powerful and the pharmaceutical industry uses them before moving on to animals.
This is because, for regulatory authorities, data from animal experiments is something they have been familiar with for a long time. On the other hand, when presented with a new technology, they say that they do not know and that the effectiveness must be demonstrated to them.
To validate a new method, it must be tested in three laboratories recognized by the European Commission. There is a 30th in Europe. If all three validate, the method is validated. 2nd step is to obtain approval from the member states. Usually this is not a problem, but it can take some time.
But we do not force the pharmaceutical industry to use animals, it is a choice to go faster.
How do we go from animal testing to humans?
For MA, after the pharmaceutical industry tests its drug on a rodent and a non-rodent, it will move on to human clinical trials. The first tests are carried out on healthy volunteers.
What most often happens is that the results obtained in rodents and non-rodents are broadly similar in terms of drug efficacy and safety.
From there, the health safety agency will give permission to proceed to the first clinical trials. They will compare the results of humans and what we have seen in animals. And very often it doesn’t match. Suddenly, they are forced to return to the laboratory and do new tests on other animal species to obtain results that correspond to the data obtained on healthy volunteers.
⋙ The Magot monkey, endangered treasure in North Africa
These differences in results are mainly explained by the fact that we are not dogs or 70 kg monkeys, and we are separated from the dog by about 86 million years of evolution and from the macaque by 25 million years. .
Will the law in France change?
We have technologies that we didn’t have before, so it’s a matter of putting pressure on the pharmaceutical industry and its shareholders. I am very optimistic about this.
Let’s take an example in the US, with botox, which contains the poisonous botulinum, the most powerful poison on earth. These are millions of mice that have been used for decades to test batches before they are used. But the largest animal protection association, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), managed to convince the manufacturer to replace animal testing.
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One of its members attended shareholder meetings and simply explained to them what happened to mice. The botulinum toxin paralyzes the muscles so that their thorax could no longer move and the animals were in agony, only to die of suffocation.
The shareholders then put pressure on the manufacturer, who got their hands dirty, and they developed a method based on cultured human neuron cells.
What is more difficult is the use of animals in universities. Teachers have been using rats and mice their entire careers so they don’t want to change. And young researchers have received the same dogma from their teachers, so they will not change either.
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