How is it that animals are used for experimentation?
What does the term animal experiment mean in concrete terms, also legally? What actions does this include?
According to the law, animal experiments are interventions on animals for scientific purposes that can be associated with suffering, pain or damage to the animal. The EU Animal Experimentation Directive also includes fears that animals experience, including in Switzerland, by the way, but not in Germany, this has been omitted in the German Animal Welfare Act.
Does that mean there are national differences despite the EU directive?
Yes, despite the binding EU directive, essential requirements have been implemented incorrectly or not at all in Germany. A legal opinion here in Germany proves 18 violations of this guideline. What is clear, however, is that animal testing is by definition always cruel. In addition, the housing conditions come before the attempt, in which z. B. Mice have to live in small plastic bowls.
Since when has there been animal testing? When did it become the industrialized form in which we know it?
There were first animal experiments in antiquity, but these were isolated cases. It became a real industry at the end of the 19th century. The French physiologist Claude Bernard made animal experiments the touchstone of all research methods; he postulated that everything must be verifiable in animal experiments, otherwise it is not scientific. And this 150-year-old dogma was widely spread and is still valid today.
As far as I know, great apes are no longer permitted for animal experiments, but primates are still. What is the correct regulation here?
Experiments on great apes, i.e. chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas, have not been carried out in Europe since 2004. According to the EU directive, they are not prohibited, only in individual countries such as Austria and the Netherlands, but they are no longer used in practice. Animal experiments are still carried out on other, non-human primates such as rhesus monkeys or long-tailed macaques.
Are there animals on which, according to the EU Animal Welfare Directive, animal experiments are explicitly prohibited?
No, there are no restrictions. There are also many animal experiments with comparatively exotic animals such as bats, owls or crows. Mostly it is mice and rats (together 83 percent) that are used for animal experiments, but also fish or dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, pigs.
And would you say there are areas where animal testing is absolutely essential?
No, it does not exist. If you ask a researcher, he will of course say that he needs the animal experiment to allegedly cure Parkinson's and Co. If someone has been experimenting with animals for 20 or 30 years, building his entire career on it, then he doesn't want to relearn, even if there are better research methods. The scientific world wants to continue as before. It is very difficult to bring about a rethink here, because indoctrination already begins during your studies. Only those who adapt to the science system will make a career in it. Lateral thinkers are not welcome. This scientific system represents a powerful lobby that helps to ensure that e.g. B. Laws restrict animal experiments as little as possible.
Why is that so, I now ask quite banally?
On the one hand, there are companies that “produce” laboratory animals, for example genetically modified mice, I am now consciously saying that. And such a genetically modified mouse can cost between 2,000 and 75,000 euros. There are also cages, food and accessories. So there are tough economic interests behind it. For scientists, as is well known, publishing in specialist journals is the measure of all things. This is particularly easy with animal experiments, because there are thousands of specialist journals in which animal experiments can be published. There are only two in-vitro journals.
So researchers who work with cell cultures instead of animal experiments have few options here?
It is difficult to make a career with cell cultures at universities, but there are now many start-up companies that have recognized the economic potential of cruelty-free test methods, such as multi-organ chips.
How can I make alternative methods of any kind attractive to someone who "believes" firmly in animal experiments?
First of all, I would like to avoid the word “substitute methods” because it suggests that only animal testing can be standard and everything else is just a “substitute”. But that shouldn't be the case in the future. We want a complete paradigm shift. We want to show that there is a way in which the human being is the focus and in which there is no attempt to artificially model human diseases in rats, mice or other animals in an absurd way, which animals often cannot get at all. And then you try to get these artificially ill animals back to health. This often even works, for example with stroke mice. They are then healthy again. And when you try the treatment method on humans, you find that it doesn't work. Why should it? In mice, a thread inserted through the carotid artery blocks an artery in the brain, simulating a stroke. In humans, however, there are many factors that contribute to a stroke: lack of exercise, stress, overeating, smoking ... You can't imitate that on a mouse! The causes are not comparable and the results are worthless! That's why it works on mice, but not on humans. 500 stroke drugs have helped mice, but not humans. Overall, 95 percent of the active ingredients found to be safe and effective in animal experiments fall into the clinical phase, i.e. H. in the "human experiment".
Where exactly are animal experiments required by law?
About 20 percent of animal experiments are required by law, e. B. for the approval of chemicals, pesticides or drugs, but also the batch testing of vaccines and botulinum toxin (Botox). But that doesn't mean that these are necessary! Ten years ago this figure was around 40%. Laws have to be adapted to scientific developments, and a lot is happening there, e. B. in the toxicological field. Due to the increased use of non-animal testing, a lot of animal testing has already been saved. But here, too, the problem is that animal testing is the established method and everything else has to be proven first. This means that the new method will only be recognized if it delivers the same results as the animal experiment. This process is called validation, and it costs a lot of money and can take ten to 15 years. However, the animal experiment has never been validated. One problem is e.g. E.g. that animal experiments produce different results, there are fluctuations, because a rat is just not a machine from which the same thing always comes out when you add something upstairs. The cell culture is subject to fewer fluctuations and, in contrast to animal experiments, can therefore be standardized and reproduced. This shows the absurdity of the existing system quite clearly.
How should a system change take place?
Population studies are very important in order to research the causes of our diseases and to derive preventive measures from them. These have already provided valuable insights into the causes of diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Of course, prophylaxis is not very popular, it is harder to earn money with it. In addition to the prevention of diseases, it is about sensible research methods such as the multi-organ chips mentioned, in which human organs such as skin, liver, intestines, kidneys, lungs and even the brain are reproduced in miniature. These can be combined with each other so that active ingredients are metabolized like the human body would. This comes much closer to our organism than a mouse ever could. The point of criticism often arises that this is not a total organism, to which I reply: Well, we do have a total organism in the mouse, but what use is that if it is the wrong organism? Better an incomplete but relevant system (multi-organ chip) than a complete, irrelevant one (mouse).
We have already mentioned cell cultures several times. In your opinion, would that be the ideal way to get validatable results?
Also yes. There are already very sophisticated methods. You shouldn't just think of it as a couple of cells onto which a substance is dripped. But z. B. The human skin is shown in all its layers and one can test how creams diffuse through the skin. Or there is a lung chip that contracts and breathes properly, and in which the alveolar and capillary cells communicate with each other. If this were promoted more, such methods would have huge potential.
What role do the researchers play in this?
Basically, I don't think it's about the self-restraint of researchers. Every researcher defends his own experiments, of course. Our goal is to have animal testing prohibited by law. People like to reply that it would be the end of all medicine. What I think is an insult to science and human intelligence. Because if a possibility is blocked, then we humans are able to find new, previously completely unknown possibilities.
Of course we are also realists and know that such a ban cannot be enforced overnight. A few months ago, the Netherlands was the first country to ever come up with a concrete exit concept. By 2025, the country wants to become a leader in the field of animal-free methods and by then animal experiments should be abolished in at least some areas. Of course you have to see what will actually be implemented, but the declared will to exit is sensationally progressive!
What I ask myself the longer we talk here is: Where does this idea come from, that the rat system is in any way comparable to the human system and therefore researchable?
Well I ask myself the same thing. A normal-thinking person cannot actually believe that. I'll tell you another absurd example: if one wants to research depression, one of the things that one uses is rats. But animals unfortunately don't get the depression as we know them. There are so many factors that can cause depression in people. The rat is thrown into a water tank and there it swims. Rats are very good swimmers. But at some point she notices that despite all the efforts she cannot get out and gives up. From this moment on she is classified as "depressed". Then this rat is given a potential anti-depressant and if it kicks a little longer, voilà! Then the antidepressant is considered successful. That's absolute bullshit, isn't it? Quite often it is also the case that animal experiments are carried out, although treatment methods for this are already established in humans. We have a database on the Internet (www.datenbank-tierversuche.de), in which we summarize specialist articles in an understandable language so that they can also be understood by medical laypersons. Quite often, the reason given for an animal experiment is that this or that has worked for a long time in humans, but there is still no mouse model, that's why we're doing it now. This dogma that everything has to be tested on animals is very difficult to get out of your mind.
What role does the EU chemicals regulation, REACH, play in relation to animal experiments?
Basically, it makes sense to test chemicals, just not on animals. The REACH regulation was issued in 2007 and it says that animal testing should be “the last resort”. Of course, we have tried everything to ensure that REACH works completely without animal testing. The ECHA, the European chemicals authority in Helsinki, which was founded for REACH, has often asked for additional animal testing as a safeguard because they believe that chemicals are safer when they are tested on animals. We then launched a project in which we looked for and found previously collected data on chemicals that have been on the market for a long time and thus prevented new animal experiments. In some cases, the industry did not even do animal experiments wanted, for cost reasons, we helped them and at the same time prevented new animal experiments.
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