with guest Dr. Jarrod Bailey, Animal Free Research UK
About this Episode
Dogs are obviously very different from humans, yet dogs and other animals are still being used as models for humans in drug development. Not only is this inhumane, but could this be one of the major reasons we still don’t have cures for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and cancer despite decades of research? In this fascinating episode we’re talking with Dr. Jarrod Bailey, a geneticist from Animal Free Research UK. He is working to encourage and accelerate a cultural shift in science—away from using animals, and towards advanced human-specific research methods which will benefit animals and humans alike.
Guest: Dr. Jarrod Bailey
Dr Jarrod Bailey is the Director of Science for Animal Free Research UK. He received his degree and Ph.D. in genetics from his hometown Newcastle University, England, then spent seven years investigating the possible genetic causes of premature birth in humans, using human tissues and tissue culture.
For the past 18 years, Jarrod has worked for a number of organizations in the U.S. and the U.K., evaluating the scientific validity and human relevance of animal experiments in many areas of biomedical research and drug/product testing, and promoting the use of human-specific research methods in their place. He has published many peer reviewed papers and book chapters, on topics as diverse as HIV/AIDS, neuroscience, drug testing, genetic modification of animals, and the use (and replacement) of dogs and nonhuman primates in science.
He has authored scientific petitions and submissions of evidence to many U.S. and European inquiries into animal research/the use of alternatives, and spoken about his work with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and with many members of U.S. Congress and the U.K., European and Italian parliaments. He was invited to present his work to the U.S. Institute of Medicine as part of their 2011 inquiry into chimpanzee research, which led to a de facto end to federally funded invasive chimpanzee experimentation in the U.S.
Jarrod has taken part in countless debates and interviews on the scientific case for a shift toward human-focused methods in biomedical research, and his expertise and knowledge have been sought many times for television and radio programs, documentaries, and for newspaper and magazine articles. He is now working to encourage and accelerate a cultural shift in science, away from using animals and towards advanced human-specific research methods, which will benefit animals and humans alike. This work involves the funding of animal free research, as well as educational and public affairs programmes.
He is a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.
ELLIE HANSEN, HOST:
You and I first spoke in 2020 when I interviewed you for my book. And I remember your dogs were barking in the background during that Zoom meeting. And the fact that we were both dog people and people who loved animals brought us together in this space to talk about dogs in research. And I’m honored to be here again today, three years later, speaking with you.
Something you said back then stuck with me and I highlighted it in my book. You said, “It makes sense that dogs as a species, being so sensitive and attuned and cognitively and emotionally capable, suffer when they are kept in a laboratory and subjected to experiments. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes or a rocket scientist to work out that dogs are going to be damaged by this.” So, in your heart and mind and professional experience, why do you believe using dogs for research is unacceptable?
DR. JARROD BAILEY, GUEST:
Thank you for bringing that point back so eloquently. And I think I need to make that point again and people, if they’re honest with themselves, will agree with it. Sometimes we reject what’s just so obvious to us, what’s clear, what anyone can see and know and feel. Because it’s convenient for us to reject that. It’s inconvenient for us to accept the truth that challenges us. And I think that’s certainly the case with our attitudes to many animals, definitely including dogs in labs, for example. Most people love dogs, are delighted to spend time with dogs, to interact with dogs, have had dogs themselves, know people who have dogs and they can see it. They can see that these… these animals are bright, are inquisitive, are emotional, are living, feeling beings, and need to, as much as we possibly can, need not to be harmed and to be protected from harm as we would with any living creature I think, really. But that goes out the window for some when it comes to the use of dogs in labs. And it just doesn’t ring true. It’s conflicting with attitudes to dogs that aren’t in labs for some people. So I think, first of all, it is obvious. And I think secondly, even if you need some proof, the proof has been there for many, many years with ethology, with studying dogs’ behaviors. We know, science has proven what dogs are capable of and how emotional and cognitively capable they are, how sensitive they are. But if you need even more proof, the proof is there in the work that I wrote about in my paper and in the book. People doing humane experiments, I hasten to add, with people’s own dogs, you know, dogs who are members of a human family in a home, that go into the lab, are put into, trained to go into an MRI machine just very, very briefly so that their brains can be scanned. They get a treat or reward for that. And that’s proven that many of the pathways, there are important differences. This is why we shouldn’t be using dogs in harmful invasive research. But what we can see from how the patterns of their neurons firing in their brain is that there are many similarities to how they’re feeling and to anticipating rewards and to feeling pleasure. So I think when you bring all of these things together, there’s a very, very strong ethical case that we definitely shouldn’t be harming dogs and, you know, cooping them up in labs, harming them for the sake of science. And I think when you roll that in with another argument, which is the scientific argument: it isn’t good science to experiment on dogs and expect what you find to transfer, to jump the species barrier and to apply to humans. It simply isn’t good science. And that brings in a third element, which is human ethics. Which is if you’re not doing good science, nevermind the animal ethics, if you’re not doing good science, then you’re letting people down. You’re causing human harm, both directly by not really understanding human diseases that you’re meant to be researching, by developing and approving drugs that will then go on to harm humans, and also by losing drugs that might go on to benefit humans because they look harmful in experiments on dogs and other animals. So there’s three big reasons there, animal ethics, human ethics, and science, to steer away from using dogs and other animals, of course, in scientific experiments.
Since you’ve just brought up the scientific argument, we’re going to dive right into science here. You have a PhD in genetics. At what point in your studies and your career did you decide that you didn’t agree with using animals for biomedical science and human drug testing, and that you wanted to dedicate your life to promoting human specific research instead?
It’s a good question and I’m going to go back to the three arguments that we just mentioned. The animal ethics argument was always very strong for me. And ever since I can remember, ever since I became interested in science, knew I was going to pursue a career in science, I knew that I didn’t want to be any part of causing animals harm. I didn’t want to use animals. I didn’t really want to be part of any research groups that used animals, although that’s a bit more difficult because the use of animals is so widespread. So that’s always been there for me.
And the scientific side of things, that became increasingly apparent and overwhelming to some degree during my postdoc years. So after my PhD, going into my postdoc years, my research, which was into premature human birth. Why do why do women have premature babies? Are there some genes involved? Are there some mechanisms we can work out? It’s a really important question. Now I was part of a group doing that research with human cells and tissues from surgical procedures. I used to just dip into the hospital, we had some great surgeons who used to provide the tissue for us to use. We also used to use those tissue samples to grow human cells in a dish for us to do our experiments to work out what was going on in a uterus and what goes wrong when premature birth comes into play.
And there were many people doing the same sort of research but using animals, and we were finding out conflicting things. And I wondered why when I and many other researchers were using human cells and tissues and cell and tissue cultures, why they were using animals and getting results that conflicted with the human relevant results that we were getting. And I became so interested that I started to look more widely and realized that actually a lot of the time, an awful lot of the time, data from animal experiments do not translate to human biology. And that got me so interested and so passionate about this, augmenting the animal ethical side of things that I wanted to change my career, move out of the lab and work to change things in scientific research, however much I could. I wanted to be part of trying to drive this change.
So what happened briefly, I sat down one lunchtime when I was in the lab and wrote, I think it was 36 letters to various different groups that were campaigning, often on a scientific basis they were campaigning for this shift away from animal research and a shift towards animal free research towards human, directly human relevant research. Humane research. And that’s how I ended up doing my first research project, my first written research work along those lines. And that’s how I ended up being a consultant for a number of groups, doing lots and lots of different research and writing projects to help build the evidence for why we needed to shift away from animal experiments. And I’ve been doing that for 20 years now. And I feel very, very privileged to have been part of it.
And I’m going to quote you again here, because you have so many poignant quotes…In a paper you published in 2019, you wrote, “It seems clear that there is something gravely wrong with the way in which drugs are developed and tested. More than 90% of the drugs that appeared to be safe and effective in animals went on to fail in human trials between 2006 and 2015. It has been claimed that this is simply a reflection of normal design process, but would this failure rate be thus described as acceptable for airplanes, car breaks, or nuclear power stations?” This is a very powerful statement that reflects the gravity of the situation we’re in, which is bringing life-saving drugs to humans. Why do you think that relying on the outdated science of animal testing is still so widely accepted and even promoted given this high failure rate of success? There appears to be an underlying reluctance to embrace this new human-focused technology such as human organ chips that are available to us instead. Why do you think this is?
Well, you know, this point is coming up again and again. And I guess we can, you know, we can go back to the first question, which is, why shouldn’t we be using dogs in labs in biomedical research? It’s obvious. It’s staring us in the face. And I think this is obvious. If you have a failure rate, it’s actually more than 92% over time. More than 92% of new human drugs that look promising, in other words, safe and effective in animal testing, go on to fail in human clinical trials. And many of those that make it into the marketplace then have boxed warnings put onto them, have their use restricted and so on, you know, with post-marketing surveillance.
So it’s obvious that something is very, very wrong with how drugs are tested with the development process, which is heavily reliant on animals, which remains heavily reliant on animals. Yet it’s still there. That is still the bedrock of how drugs are developed and tested and brought to market. And it’s always pained me and puzzled me and many, many other people and scientists, by the way. Why is this the case? Why in the field of science, which is supposed to ask questions; is supposed to test; is supposed to try and disprove hypotheses and ways of doing things and find better ways to do things. Why is this particular area of science and engineering, which is supposed to work like that, questioning? Why is this particular area so resistant to change? Why is it still doing what it did decades ago, even now, even in the face of so much evidence against it and even in the face of so much evidence showing that there’s something better waiting there to be adopted and used.
I think trying to be positive about the current situation in the face of this, you know, I moved out of the lab almost 20 years ago and I’ve been working in this field, trying to drive change and supply evidence to drive change with many other brilliant scientists by the way. Change is happening. This is being talked about more and more. And not just within groups campaigning for change, but within the pharmaceutical industry, within the regulatory agencies, within the scientific research field, more and more people in the mainstream, if you like, are now asking these questions, and now talking about this, and now looking for better ways, and now appreciating that we need to change, we need to do something different. So that’s where the progress has been made.
I think the reasons for the slow pace of change, and this is what we’re having to come to terms with, change is happening and it will accelerate, I’m sure of it. But at the minute, it’s painfully slow and it isn’t happening as quickly as the evidence demands it should be happening. And what are the reasons for that? Well, I’ve been part of panels at meetings and panels exist and discussions and workshops at other meetings, scientific meetings around the world where this very thing is being discussed. That’s some evidence of change and of people more widely questioning this. And the reasons that are coming up are, I guess, ones that are obvious. Yet again, there is a human fear of change quite often. Unless a proposed change is going to directly benefit you, then there is a fear of change. There is a resistance to change.
There is, there are demands, part of that fear is demands for perfection. Well, what are you replacing and what are you replacing it with? Well, there are some issues with the model that you want to use. There are issues with all models, as we know, they’re all imperfect. You have to use the best model that’s available to you. So demanding perfection in a replacement isn’t scientific. That’s getting in the way. If something, if a replacement is good enough to use now, because it’s better than what we’re doing now, then we use it and we continue to improve it and develop it. But that’s there…demands for perfection.
There’s habit, people have just done this for a long time. People are breeding the animals and selling them, importing them, the equipment. People have made their name and their careers based on animal research. So there’s hubris involved there. There’s… People don’t want to be wrong. They don’t want to be told they’re wrong. They don’t want to feel like they’ve wasted their time for a long time. So they push on doing what they’ve always done and they defend what they’ve always done. And money comes into it. Like I’ve mentioned, you know, the breeding and the supply of animals and the equipment, the research grants that are dedicated to animal research. So all of those things and more.
But what I will say again, to finish this point on a positive note is Change is now happening and it’s happening, I think that there’s a couple of reasons. One is more and more people, so again, not just in campaign groups, but in the scientific community itself, in the pharmaceutical industry itself and associated stakeholders. More and more people are having epiphanies, are really starting to appreciate what’s wrong, why what’s wrong is wrong, what they can do instead. And there’s self-interest rolled into that too. This is going to benefit us because we’re going to develop more and new and better and safer drugs. We’re going to make more money.
I mean, there was, there was one thing recently, briefly, one of the biggest single causes of failure of new drugs is drug induced liver injury. It’s drugs that harm the liver. That’s kind of one of the first ports of call. When you absorb, you take an absorber new drug and that’s not predicted particularly well by animal tests, but it’s predicted better by something we can talk about in a little while, these human liver on a chip technologies. These tiny chips with three dimensional tiny, real human liver, livers growing on them. And it’s been shown that they predict drug induced liver injury much, much better, or the absence of drug induced liver injury just as important, much, much better than animal tests. So this is the way things are heading. And the paper that reported this said that this could be worth up to $3 billion every single year for the pharmaceutical industry.
So it’s these sorts of things that are now coming into the equation and pricking up people’s ears and making them realize that actually change is going to benefit everybody. Humans, animals, patients, the pharmaceutical industry, everybody, and that this is going to be a really big driver of change and it’s long overdue.
So you just mentioned that these changes of not using animals for biomedical research will benefit everybody. I think the phrase “biomedical research” can be an overwhelming term to many people who may not understand how this research is conducted and how it connects to them personally. So I want to make a familiar connection… and talk about Alzheimer’s disease a little bit. I’d say most of us know at least one person who has been affected by some form of this disease. And since you’re an expert in genetics, I was hoping we could talk about why genetically modified animals are not good predictors of human disease. And as I understand it, they’re trying to use genetically modified mice to study Alzheimer’s, and other animals possibly.
I believe this is still one of the main arguments supporting animal testing: that human disease can be genetically reproduced in animals. Your most recent published paper entitled, “Poor Translatability of Biomedical Research Using Animals,” highlights Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia and the seventh leading cause of death in the world. Alzheimer’s drug development also has a 99% failure rate. Despite all the decades of animal testing, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s and most of the drugs available only alleviate symptoms and often not very well. So can you describe how genetically altered mouse brains for example, are not the same thing as a human brain with Alzheimer’s. And what should we be studying instead?
That’s a really good question. And I’m probably going to give you a very long answer because there are lots of aspects to it that we can talk about. First of all, I think it’s important for your listeners to appreciate that, you know, we always talk about the drug failure rate. And I think it’s a, I was gonna say a great example. In a way, it’s a great example. In a way, it’s an awful example because it’s so depressing. But it’s a really illustrative example of what is wrong with using animals and why you can’t jump the species barrier when it comes to scientific research and testing.
But it’s not just the development of drugs. It’s the understanding of human diseases that afflict and affect so many people. That’s what we’re also failing at. Whether it’s heart disease, whether it’s different types of cancer, whether it’s why cancers spread and that’s… what kills most people with cancer. It’s neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. We’re not understanding these diseases because we’re using animal models that don’t work and that don’t accurately model the actual human disease and we have to get our heads around this. We have to be honest with ourselves. It’s just not working.
So… I think again, you can look back at where research has been in many, many different fields, including Alzheimer’s. And from about the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, animal use in many developed countries was declining steeply in science. And I think one of the main reasons for that was there was a shift away from it because people were realizing it really wasn’t working very well. The problem… is that what changed that decrease into a significant increase, which is still really going on, I mean at best animal use and science is plateauing now, but there’s been an increase for many years. What reversed that decrease and what caused the increase was genetically modified animals, was the ability of scientists to change genes within animals, predominantly within mice. You could knock genes out and try and find out what that did. You could take a human gene and insert a copy of it into developing mice and find out what that did. You could mutate or induce mistakes into genes in mice and find out what that did. You could recreate genetic sequences or mutations in mice that you have found in humans with a particular disease and say that that’s a way of studying the pathways involved in a human disease. The problem is… that really hasn’t worked either. It hasn’t, it might have reversed the animal use numbers, but it hasn’t reversed the level of failure of animal research. And there are, again, there are pretty simple yet at the same time, complex reasons for that. And that’s that, you know, we have, we share many genes with other species.
One campaign I was involved in for a long time was against chimpanzee research in the US. Now those who wanted to defend chimpanzee research said it was because they were our closest genetic relative. And that’s true. But actually only when you really ask questions of that similarity or of the differences that exist, do you see that the differences that there are between humans and chimpanzees and their genetic material, their DNA, they might be relatively small, but there are enough of them to really matter. And this is what I want to explain about the use of genetically modified mice, for example. You can’t just take a gene or a genetic mistake and recreate that human gene or genetic mistake in mice and expect it to have exactly the same effect. You have to expect a gene or a genetic mistake to do exactly the same job, have exactly the same effect. And there are many, many different reasons for that. There are simple ones like… It matters where you put a gene in our DNA. It matters, there are, to put it simply, there are genetic switches, either side of genes that turn genes on and off, or turn its activity a bit like a dimmer switch on a light, or turn a gene up or down. Now that matters, how a gene is expressed, that is how it’s called, whether a gene is on or off, or turned up or down. You can share identical genes with a mouse but the gene will do different jobs in how it’s modulated, how it’s turned up or down, and how that gene does its job in producing a protein or an enzyme that is a structural part of our bodies or an enzyme that carries out important chemical reactions in our bodies. It matters where the gene is, what’s turning it on and off, what other genes and gene products are interacting with it. There’s something called… without getting too technical, something called epigenetics, which are where kind of little tags are put on our DNA, on our genes, and that can be via stress, for example, which I think we’re going to talk about in a little while.
But epigenetics matters, and epigenetics is species-specific quite often. Some things are inherited, some aren’t. It can be affected by the food you eat, the amount of stress you’re under, the types of lives your parents had, and so on and so forth. The point is that genetics is so complex that you can’t just take something out of one cell from one organism and put it in one cell in another organism and allow that organism to develop and assume that that’s going tell you an awful lot exactly about how the human gene works. And the proof is in the pudding. We still don’t really understand all of the diseases I mentioned earlier. Alzheimer’s is one of them.
The solution of, for researchers who have had the humility to at least admit that is not to stop using genetically modified animals altogether. One of the proposed solutions is instead of making GM mice, yeah, well let’s stop making GM mice. Let’s make GM rats instead, genetically modified rats. People are now advocating going to places like China where rules and regulations are less strict and making genetically modified monkeys. What these scientists should be doing is going back to basics and asking what the best scientific tools available to them are, which also happen to be the most humane tools, which is using human advanced cell and tissue cultures, these little three-dimensional organoids that we’ve talked about, mini brains, mini hearts, mini lungs, anything you can think of, the size of a full stop or smaller, directly taken from patient’s blood samples or skin tissue. You can coax these cells into being a mini brain, a mini heart, mini lung, mini pancreas, mini kidney, mini liver, whatever. And it’s a direct copy of the patient that you took the blood or the skin sample from. So you can factor in human variability. You can look at healthy humans and various humans with a particular disease, often with different causes and different genetic causes underlying them. Every which way you look at this, this is better science. And it also happens to be humane science.
And again, trying to end on a positive note, more and more researchers than ever before are looking into this and are wanting to be part of this, what will be a revolution. The problem that we have, those of us who are trying to campaign for change is the pace of change. People are still, even if they’re using these techniques, too many scientists just can’t let go of the animals. And I think this will happen, and I think it will happen in the very near future, but it’s going to take time. And our job is just to push this change as quickly as we possibly can, because it’s not just harming an estimated 200 million animals around the world every year in laboratories. It’s harming us too. It’s harming humans because we’re not understanding the diseases that we need to understand and we’re not developing the safe and effective drugs and therapies that we need to develop.
I don’t know if you know the answer to this because we’ve just been talking about genetically altered mice. Do you believe that they are genetically modifying dogs? I know dog use is generally plateaued or decreasing, but do you think are they’re doing this to dogs as well?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I think what I would say is if in some parts of the world they’re genetically modifying monkeys, then they will be genetically modifying dogs. I think there’s no question. If you look at drug development that we’ve talked about already, you have to test drugs in a rodent species, a mouse or a rat. And ironically, because there is an acceptance, an acknowledgement that species are different to one another, you also have to test it in a non-riding species. Now that tends to be a dog or a macaque monkey. So dogs are one of the species of choice in drug development. So it’s entirely possible. And there have been cloning experiments done in dogs, where you kind of recreate one individual dog by cloning it. That has been done in some parts of the world. So I think GM dogs… GM dogs may well be being created somewhere, but I don’t know that for sure.
What I would say is this, and this is just a quick important point at the end of it. Some of your listeners may know of a US company called Vanda Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical company in the US who took the FDA, the US drug regulator to court, about a demand that they do some dog experiments that the pharmaceutical company argued weren’t… these dog experiments were not scientifically justifiable and they didn’t want to do them. The FDA was demanding that they did them. Now, Vanda Pharmaceuticals, as part of evidence for their case that they shouldn’t be doing these dog experiments, they did some research that showed evidence from inbred human populations. There are some inbred human populations. That is often… not acceptable scientifically because inbreeding, breeding within a relatively shallow gene pool, causes some scientific issues. There are some data issues with that. And yet they looked at how inbred laboratory beagles, beagle dogs bred for laboratory research were. And these laboratory beagles were… I can’t remember the figure unfortunately, but they were significantly more inbred and another species altogether than a human inbred population for which data wasn’t admissible scientifically because of that inbreeding.
So I think that they flagged a really important point, which is not only are we using a different species when we’re doing research and testing using beagles, we’re using a very, very inbred breed of dog that poses even more problems on top of that. And then we’re expecting any results we get from that very, very inbred, completely different species to apply to human beings? Again, it’s obvious that this is nonsense, that this is not scientific, and yet this is what is being done.
So I think what we’re coming to is we’re trying to encourage those scientists who are switching onto this now and who are thinking hard about this and realizing that we need to do things differently. We want to encourage them. But we also need to engage with scientists who are taking these sorts of positions and stances and arguing that it’s okay to use inbred beagles and that the data from those experiments must apply to humans, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing them. We need to work with them to try and help them be more scientific in their approach and to question what’s being done and to ask how science can do better. And once we do that, then we will be going a long way towards realizing the pace of change that we need to see that I talked about earlier.
And I believe this question connects what we’ve been talking about regarding the ethics of dog research and the high failure rate of human drugs. I think feeling stressed out or having anxiety is something we can all relate to. I know that if I’m stressed, my heart starts beating faster, I start sweating, my breathing is altered, just to name a few side effects. And I’m a person living a relatively normal human life in a normal environment and my stress is variable. There are some days I’m not stressed at all, or if I’m stressed, it’s only for a little while. But laboratory dogs are stressed out constantly. Their environment they live in is stressful and scary. They endure painful and uncomfortable procedures on a daily basis. And you have written extensively on the issue of this stress and had several articles published on the effects of stress on laboratory animals. You even go as far as saying that prenatal stress or early life stress can have consequences for laboratory dogs into adulthood. And that stress can be handed down from generation to generation. Can you describe why this makes laboratory dogs an unsuitable research model for people?
Yeah, this is a really, really important point, Ellie. So I’m going to start briefly by going back to the core argument, which is you cannot reliably extrapolate or translate data from one species to another, because we are just too biologically genetically different. There’s too much, too many different processes going on. So that’s the main reason why, the main scientific reason why we shouldn’t be using dogs in research and testing. You have to roll ethics into that. Poll after poll for years and years have shown that the public are at the very least uncomfortable if not outright objecting to causing pain and suffering to dogs and monkeys and other animals in laboratories for the sake of science. So we must never forget those two big reasons. And then there’s the human ethics that I mentioned before.
But if we think, we’re always told that people who use dogs in research and other animals have real concerns for animal welfare. They don’t want animals to be experiencing poor welfare. They don’t want animals who are stressed because it’s unethical, it’s an animal welfare issue, and it might just affect the science that they’re trying to do. Now that all sounds very good, but again, we have to, we have to look at what the reality is. And there are huge amounts of evidence as I’ve summarized in my reviews, my own work to show that animals, perhaps, especially dogs and monkeys, perhaps not surprisingly, but not just dogs and monkeys, animals in laboratories are stressed. And again, taking a simple approach to this, of course they are. These animals…they might be bred for laboratory life, but they don’t know that. But ultimately they are in an unnatural environment. There are unnatural sounds, unnatural light. They can’t pursue some of their natural embedded behaviors like properly foraging for food, having a host range, burrowing, and all sorts of things. They can’t live like they would live naturally in the wild. And you know, people have said things like, if you leave the cages open, if you leave the lab doors open, you see where the animals go. They will leave, they will not come back. That tells you an awful lot.
So there’s something really obvious there, but it’s measurable too. There are many different ways of measuring stress in animals. And again, if you look hard enough, you might take one or two or three different measurements and say the animals don’t look particularly stressed. If you look really hard and take more measurements, you will find evidence of stress. And again, of course you do. Now we don’t just know that animals are stressed because of their unnatural environment and also of course because of the handling procedures and the you know what they’re subjected to in labs, the experimental procedures, sometimes witnessing their cage mates, their litter mates, other animals in labs undergoing procedures and they’re kind of waiting their turn. Of course these things are stressful. These things are measurably stressful.
Now, some scientists have tried from a welfare perspective to try and mitigate those animal welfare issues with things called enrichment. So they might want slightly bigger cages. They might want dogs to be able to see out of their cages or pens. They might want dogs to get some time outside when it’s permissible. They might want to put some toys or something to chew in a cage for a rat or a mouse or a dog or a monkey. The problem is that more often than not, this doesn’t really have any significant effect on the stresses that the animals are experiencing. And actually, often, they have the reverse effect to what you’re expecting. It’s not enrichment. It can cause them more stress. It’s a kind of novel things coming into their environment that they just can’t cope with and they don’t know what to do with, and it causes more stress.
But more than this, it’s not just a welfare issue. We know that these sorts of… of chronic stress, the repeated stressful experiences, as you said, when we experience stress, things happen to us biologically. We know we’re feeling stressed because it affects our heart rate, our breathing rate, we sweat. If we’re chronically stressed, we are more prone to infections and so on and so forth. And these things have been measured. We know that biologically we’re responding, our genes are responding, our biology is responding to stress. And it affects things like, but not limited to our metabolism, which is really important if you’re testing new drugs in animals because the drugs go and get metabolized and often it’s the metabolites of those drugs that have the effect. And also our immune systems, which of course is important if you’re studying an infectious disease, a bacterium or a virus. This is really, really important. So we know, and by the way, the paper that I wrote on this is my most read, most downloaded, most accessed paper. So people for a number of years since I wrote this are really paying attention to it. We know why this is happening. We know that the genes involved in these really important processes are affected. We know, I mentioned epigenetics or tagging that can happen via stressful experiences of our genetic material. This is known to be important and therefore stress can be heritable. So even if you as an individual might be born in a perfect environment, if your mother or your grandmother led really stressful lives, then you can inherit the consequences of that stress genetically. So it’s as if you have experienced early life stress as an individual. Your gene expression is changed, parts of your biology are changed.
So this was a very long-winded way of coming to a really, really important point, which is this is not just a welfare issue, this is a scientific issue too. So you don’t just have to roll in trying to jump the species barrier with your experimental results, which I have to say again, much, much more often than not fails. It doesn’t translate. You also have to try and factor in the stress that animals in labs experience and the impacts of that, not just on their welfare, but on the validity of your scientific results, which might even not apply to the same types of animal living in the wild, undergoing very different acute stressful experiences.
So this really, really matters. And again, it points towards a very simple conclusion. We have to focus on human biology. We have to do human relevant human specific research, we have to do humane research and there’s a bonus when we do all of this not just that it’s more human relevant, it’s more translational that we’re not using animals, but that we can factor in human diversity which is difficult enough to take account of at the best of times, but we can factor in human diversity to our research which is really crucial. So all ends up everything every scrap of evidence is pointing towards the fact that we need to shift our focus to human specific research and the sooner more and more researchers get on board with this as they are starting to then the better for all concerned.
So for the past several years, you’ve been the Director of Science at Animal Free Research UK. One of your main objectives is to award grants to scientists to help replace the use of animals in medical research. It’s heartening for me to see how many of these up-and-coming younger scientists are applying for these grants. Have you seen an increase in interest among this younger generation over the past few years to not use dogs and other animals in research? And is this a trend you expect to continue and even take off as the norm in the near future?
It’s a great question and the simple answer is yes. It is as clear as day and it’s wonderful to witness, to see. It really, really is. You know, in a field that’s often so difficult to work in and there’s so many negative things you have to face on a regular basis, this has been really, really heartening to see. One thing I want to preface my answer with is that it’s not just limited to young early career researchers. There are many fabulous established older researchers who have had this epiphany and who are evangelical about the need to leave animals alone and to do human specific research. And that’s wonderful to see, but it has a huge effect as well because they have labs that are full of researchers. They have labs with significant numbers of younger early career researchers in them who are absorbing this attitude and learning about this science. first hand. So that’s wonderful to see.
But certainly, you know, from the perspective of watching early career researchers, young researchers, it’s just incredible. So, you know, we have put on summer schools for young researchers. We’re looking at helping to train young researchers and expose them to these technologies and to learn about them, to want to be part of them, to want to use them in their own research. You know, we’re looking at all sorts of things like placing them in labs and biotech companies that are developing these tools.
I was at a summer school conducted by another organization just a couple of weeks ago. It’s the European Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods or ECVAM in Italy. They had a summer school for 120 students from all around Europe. And it was the most positive, energizing, amazing thing to be part of, to present at, and to be a mentor to these students, And it’s just so obvious that the tide, the tide is turning, that things are really, really shifting, and that the next generation of principal investigators, you know, of people, of lab heads, of people directing their own research groups…that next generation is going to be largely composed of people who just aren’t even thinking about using animals. This is science, this is the best science, and this is what they’re going to do. So there’s an awful lot to be positive and optimistic about in the future for sure.
Also globally, I believe more people are becoming aware of dogs in research and are speaking out against it, perhaps propelled by media coverage of events such as the Envigo beagle rescue here in the US which involved the closure of and rescue of the 4,000 beagles from a massive dog research breeding facility in Virginia. So my last question is, how can members of the public assist scientists, such as yourself, in promoting human-specific research? Because I think it will take all of us working together to make this happen.
Again, really good question. Nice way to head towards the finish, because this is going to be a very positive answer. Firstly, awareness is the key. People need to know about this. They need to know what’s going on, what biomedical research, what drug development and testing, what it currently involves, and where science could be heading instead, and how everyone’s going to benefit when that change happens.
And I, you know, you’d think that people would know, but for whatever reason, and we can talk about this, but not enough people know enough, if that makes sense. And I gauge it, you know, if I’m going to conferences or meetings, I talk to my cab drivers or just people I meet, and people don’t know. people don’t know enough about what’s going on and why it’s going on and where science is heading and should be heading. So awareness is the key. If you can arm yourself with the information and you’re right, it happened in the UK too, big campaigns against the use of dogs in research labs and in testing labs, which horrified the public as it should. Awareness is the key because once people learn about that, they feel uncomfortable about it. They don’t want it done in their name. They want better science to be done in their name. They will feel informed and empowered and motivated to do something about it.
And what they can do in turn is make other people aware of what’s going on and how science can change and should be changing for everyone’s benefit. They can engage their legislators, their politicians, their members of parliament, whether they’re in North America, in the UK, in the rest of Europe, anywhere. Political engagement is the key. That’s how we’re going to get policy change and funding change to encourage this better science. And that’s why my colleagues at Animal Free Research UK and many other groups around the world who are campaigning on this issue, they’re not just concentrating on the science. The science is important, but it’s not enough. The ethics is important, but it’s not enough. The awareness is important, but it’s not enough. There are many, many parts of this machine, many cogs here that need to all mesh together for change to happen to benefit everybody. And one of those is public affairs work, is political work, is engaging with legislators and members of parliament and so on and so forth to get that policy change and that funding that’s going to help things along.
So I would say that awareness, spreading the word, engaging politically and with campaigns, that’s always been done of course, but we’re now at a point where many, many stakeholders are coming together to have a louder, stronger voice than is the sum of their parts. And to illustrate that, for example, we know of patient groups, groups campaigning for more research into a particular disease. who are becoming frustrated, they’re kind of saying to the people who’ve been funding the research on their behalf, doing the research on their behalf, often using animals, what have you done? Where are the fruits of your labor? Where is the translational benefit, clinical benefit to humans and to patients? Where is it? You told us this was going to be, this was going to be done long ago and yet we’re still scrabbling around. Don’t we need to do something different? And I think if we can harness that kind of, as I said earlier, multi-stakeholder power and voice, then we’ll be in a much, much stronger position. So efforts are being made along those lines, but everybody can help in any of those ways, whatever, you know, however they feel able to do it. And it’s all crucial. It’s all important. And that’s how we’ll get it done.