The below article was written for Issue 74 of Mobilise! by Dr Andre Menache, BSc (Zoology), BSc(Hons), BVSc, Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL) MRCVS.
The use of animals for the study of Parkinson’s Disease (PD) has recently been publicised in the media, following the closure of the Awarua pig (Auckland Island pig), breeding facility, yet another sad example where humans have not learned from past mistakes. Although animal researchers claim that medical advances in the field of PD have been made possible with the help of monkeys, pigs and other animals, a careful study of medical history proves the opposite. Read more about the Auckland Island pigs here.
Neurosurgeon Marius Maxwell has studied the history of PD and concludes that “great strides in movement disorder research were made solely in human patients, and the few scattered and contradictory animal studies of the 1930s and 40s were no more predictive or even scientific than such studies are now”1. Medical historian Ray Greek MD supports this view with yet more evidence2.
Another approach to the management of PD symptoms is a surgical procedure known as “Deep Brain Stimulation” (DBS) where electrodes are permanently implanted in the brain of the patient. The procedure is helpful in some cases but is not risk-free. Animal researchers claim the success of DBS to be the result of animal experiments, but this is refuted by medical history (see references 1 and 2). Clinical researchers, on the other hand, are increasingly looking for less invasive ways to help PD patients to avoid the risks and complications associated with the standard DBS technique of electrode implantation3. This clinical approach with patients does not involve animal use.
It is often all too easy to focus on treatment and to ignore prevention. The available epidemiological evidence has identified pesticides as increasing the risk of PD, while increased physical activity is associated with a decreased risk of PD4. In summary, PD occurs only in humans. It, therefore, makes little sense to try to create animal models by artificial means because the symptoms in animals do not accurately represent the real disease in people. Faster progress will be achieved by focusing our research efforts on finding ways to directly benefit PD patients as well as increasing our knowledge on prevention. Every dollar spent on animal research means one less dollar available for genuine research.
Interview with Dr Andre Menache
Dr Andre Menache is a Veterinarian and Zoologist, currently working as a Scientific Consultant to Antidote Europe (France), a non-profit organisation that promotes sound scientific methods of research and campaigns on issues of consumer safety.
Prior to this he was the President of Doctors and Lawyers for Responsible Medicine (UK) and was also the General Manager of the Federation of Animal Protection Societies in Israel.
Dr Menache also acts as a scientific advisor for NZAVS. We decided to find out more about Dr Menache and get his scientific perspective on vivisection and the use of animals for Parkinson Disease research.
Read our interview with Dr Menache below.
What first inspired you to question the scientific validity of animal-based research?
I first discovered the horrors of animal experimentation as a veterinary student. However, I soon realised that my ethical objections were easily crushed by proponents of animal research, who told me that society had to choose between using "a dog or a child", for the sake of medical progress. Faced with this dilemma, I decided to make it my mission in life to critically examine the historical, legal and scientific underpinnings used by the establishment to justify the animal research paradigm.
What are the main reasons that you are against animal-based research?
The initial reason was the obvious animal suffering. However, as I began to probe the use of animals in drug testing, I discovered that this practice was based on out-of-date science. I also discovered that the ethical committees who approve animal research do not critically question the relevance of the animal model to human health. There is no solid scientific evidence to debunk the animal model paradigm, thanks largely to pioneers in the field of evolutionary biology, like Professor Niall Shanks and Dr Ray Greek (see here for more info).
Can you explain briefly why using animal models for Parkinson Disease research isn’t the best method when trying to find useful cures and treatments for humans?
The human brain has no animal equivalent in nature and Parkinson's Disease is a uniquely human condition. It should be obvious even to the general public, that randomly creating an "animal model" by artificial means is not a very scientific method of studying the natural history of a complex human disease. The people best placed to criticise animal models are sometimes the very scientists who use them. See for example this article.
Why do these researchers continue to use pigs and other animals in Parkinson Disease research, despite the methodology behind it being so flawed?
The animal model is sadly the current paradigm in medical research. We also live in a scientific culture that encourages and rewards scientific curiosity, almost regardless of the suffering caused to animals. For decades, the animal research community has been virtually immune from independent scientific audit. On the very few occasions that a critical cost-benefit analysis of animal-based research is performed, the results are shockingly clear, namely that the animal model cannot predict human outcome to drugs and disease. Once this information becomes easily and widely available to the public and to politicians, animal experimentation will face a tsunami of public opposition.
Are you aware of any organisations, companies or individuals who are using more human-relevant research methods for PD?
Yes, I am aware of individual scientists who are using human-relevant methods for PD. Click here for an example.
Have any promising results come from this research?
This research is currently awaiting clinical trials. However, there are already several other clinical trials underway for Parkinson's Disease patients (see for example ClinicalTrials. gov). Although animal models may have been used prior to these clinical trials, it could be argued that the animal tests were done more for legal reasons than scientific ones.
As long ago as September 1962, the respected medical journal Lancet commented: "We must face the fact that the most careful tests of a new drug's effects on animals may tell us little of its effects in humans". Ultimately, it is the careful observation of human PD patients, coupled with ethical human studies and laboratory studies of autopsied human brains that will continue to pave the way for advances in treating this uniquely human condition.
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24555921 4. http://www.prd-journal.com/article/S1353-8020(15)30061-4/fulltext