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Independent review exposes failings of animal tests

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Independent review exposes failings of animal tests

15th June 2006

The report, Testing Treatment on Animals: Relevance to Humans, was commissioned by the NHS and published last week. Its purpose was to test the extent to which animal experiments concur with the human clinical situation.

Its findings were damning:
  • animal tests fail to reliably predict effects in humans;
  • many animal experiments are of poor quality;
  • the results of animal tests are not being adequately communicated to those conducting later clinical trials.

Nine independent researchers, including doctors and epidemiologists, reviewed six interventions for which there was clear evidence of a harmful or beneficial effect based on a review of human clinical trials. These interventions were: drug treatments for brain injury; blood loss; stroke (x2); and two preventative treatments for lung damage in premature babies and osteoporosis in women. The researchers then searched for animal studies regarding these interventions and assessed statistically their agreement with the human studies. They reviewed in detail 176 animal experiments, involving more than 5,619 animals, including rats, monkeys, baboons, sheep, rabbits and cows. 

In all six cases the researchers heavily criticised the quality of the animal studies. Some were poorly controlled with a failure to comply with good clinical practices such as randomisation, blinding of treatment identity and reporting adherence to regulatory requirements. In four of the six interventions the animal studies failed to correctly predict the human outcome; in two of these cases they actually predicted a beneficial effect when the treatment was ineffective and harmful to humans. The researchers also often reported finding animal studies that had been conducted at the same time or even after the human studies had shown the treatment to be effective. They also noted that the results of animal studies were not effectively being incorporated into human research – the key justification for conducting them in the first place. The report states: “there seems to be little communication between those conducting animal experiments and those conducting clinical trials.”
The BUAV have been calling for truly independent systematic reviews of the usefulness of animal experiments for years. The Government and experimenters claim that animal experiments are well-regulated, carefully scrutinised and only performed to save human lives – but this is a claim made without evidence. The results of this authoritative and objective scientific study are clear and directly contradict that claim: animal experiments are unreliable, poorly conducted, frequently superfluous and/or their findings are simply not used by clinicians. As usual, far from reinforcing the need for them, proper scientific assessment of animal experiments has served to expose their wastefulness and inefficiency.

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