Pouring water on opponents of animal research
In today’s blog, Understanding Animal Research’s Chief Executive, Wendy Jarrett, challenges Pamela Anderson's hypocrisy in opposing the animal research used to understand motor neurone disease.
It’s not surprising that some people have an automatic dislike of animal research. It isn’t nice and most people would rather it didn’t have to happen. But most of us can accept the need for some animal research if we are to have the benefit of the medicines and treatments that we and our pets need.
I have no problem with people who find the issue of animal research difficult. I’m sure that many of us have qualms about taking medicines that have, by law, required the deaths of animals to determine whether they are toxic or not. What I object to are people who quite happily take the benefits of that research for themselves while campaigning against future animal research that could benefit others.
Take the example of the latest social media-based charity fundraiser – the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. People have iced water tipped over them and donate a nominal amount to charity. Those who refuse the challenge are asked to pay rather more to the charity. Like the recent ‘no make-up selfie’ in aid of cancer research, thousands of people are texting donations to a medical research charity. In the case of the ice bucket challenge, the money raised will go towards research into ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – known better in the UK as motor neurone disease (MND).
MND is a devastating condition that currently has no cure. Degeneration of the motor neurones leads to weakness and wasting of muscles, causing increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing. Some treatments are available to improve the quality of patients’ lives, but ultimately the disease kills. Research breakthroughs are desperately needed in order to add MND to the list of conditions that we can cure, or at least allow people to live with, rather than die from.
So who would be against a fundraising campaign to support research into motor neurone disease? Well, ex-Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson for one. She has refused to join the many celebrities taking part because the ALS Association supports research using animals. Of course it does – animal research is currently the most practical way that scientists can find out what causes MND, how it progresses and ultimately how we can prevent that progression.
The Motor Neurone Disease Association is funding a number of projects using mice and zebrafish, and researchers from Sheffield University and the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan last year published the fascinating findings of their research into mice that had been genetically modified to have the same gene defect as humans with MND. The researchers were able to look at how the disease progressed before any symptoms were detectable, something that, by definition, we can’t do in humans.
Now, if Pamela Anderson had never availed herself of medicines, or surgery to enhance her breasts, then I might have more respect for her views (although her claim that HIV medication was developed without using animals is laughable). But silicone breast implants, anaesthetics, analgesics, sutures and the surgical techniques necessary for breast augmentation surgery have all been developed and safety tested using animals. And Pamela has also revealed that she contracted hepatitis C through sharing a tattoo needle with her ex-husband and has received medical treatment for the condition. So what Pammie is effectively saying is, “I’ve benefited from the results of animal research in order to have larger breasts and to treat my hepatitis C, but I don’t agree that animals should be used in research to try to treat a currently incurable disease.”
Hypocrisy is a strong word and not one that I would apply to the majority of people who say they are opposed to animal research while taking a daily statin, blood pressure pill or other medication. Many people are simply unaware that practically all our medicines have been developed using animal research. Indeed, a large minority of the population think that cosmetics are still tested on animals (illegal since 1998) and that animals are used even when alternative methods are available (illegal since 1986). But I do think that those individuals, especially celebrities, who set themselves up as campaigners against animal research really ought to be prepared to eschew vaccinations, antibiotics, surgery, painkillers and the rest before they call for a ban on research that could lead to cures for others.