The Journal of History     Summer 2006    TABLE OF CONTENTS

Science fiction v. fact


Oxford University's website currently has a page entitled FAQ about animal experiments. The page is basically an exercise in misinformation consistent with Oxford University's past record of disseminating half-truths and lies to mislead the public as to the true nature of their work. The desperate sham that is vivisection is designed to power the illusion that knowledge is being accrued at a fast rate and that cures are being found every day.

In order to perpetuate this lie, and thus ensure the perpetual flow of funding necessary to ensure that the flow and acquisition of "bigged-up" but largely useless data and knowledge continues, the pro-vivisection lobby must (a) mask the fact that vivisection has been around for well over 100 years and still not found cures for the century's biggest killers, despite promises to the contrary, and (b) ensure a steady flow of money to feed the habit in a self-perpetuating cycle based on the formula: knowledge = power = money.

In the University's FAQ page, there is an avowed commitment "to the highest standards of animal welfare". We also read that; "Most research on animals causes little or no discomfort, such as drawing blood samples. Every attempt is made to maximise well-being, and animals are given painkillers and anaesthetics when necessary". If such is the case, we will all be queuing up to have blood samples taken to save our fellow humans. With the added reassurance that there will be no pain involved in the process!! Evidently we anti-vivisectionists have had it all wrong all these years: vivisection is not about maiming, torturing, killing - it's about taking blood samples!

When reading Oxford University's answers, please bear in mind that when the SPEAK campaign was launched, the university described their 'pet' (sic) project as an 'animal hotel' in which no animal experiments would take place. Please also remember that when challenged, they changed their story to say that 98% of animals used would be rodents. This was rendered null and void by a leading vivisector at the university in an interview with a local newspaper, who stated that "monkeys would be housed in large troops" at the new facility. (These are just one or two examples of the University's attempts at hoodwinking the public. Further examples are referred to throughout SPEAK's website).

Instead of having learned that telling lies doesn't pay, it seems that Oxford University's record of trying to dupe the public with regard to vivisection stands unbroken with the FAQ on their website. Below are Oxford University's responses to FAQ in grey; SPEAK's responses are highlighted in bold.


How has animal research helped ordinary people?

Oxford University claim:

Life expectancy in this country has increased, on average, by almost 3 months for every year of the past century. Within the living memory of many people diseases such as polio, tuberculosis, leukaemia and diphtheria killed or crippled thousands every year. But now, doctors are able to prevent or treat many more diseases or carry out life-saving operations - all thanks to research which at some stage involved animals.

Each year, millions of people in the UK benefit from treatments that have been developed and tested on animals. As the Department of Health put it: 'Research on animals has contributed to almost every medical advance of the last century. The NHS would not be able to function effectively were it not for the availability of medicines and treatments that have been developed or validated through research using animals. The public health - in its widest sense - is the ultimate beneficiary of medical research using animals.'

SPEAK's response:

Life expectancy has increased overall in the UK for a number of reasons, not least of which is the socio-economic climate, better diet, and higher standards of hygiene and increased awareness, as well as the provision of a free National health service. Longevity and public health cannot be solely attributable to a single factor - and certainly not to animal experiments as Oxford University's answer suggests. There is quite simply no prima facie evidence to substantiate this.

According to NHS statistics, 12 million people were admitted to UK hospitals last year. And according to the British Medical Journal (July 2004), 5% of those hospital admissions were as a result of an adverse drug reaction (ADR), of which 18,000 resulted in death. This figure is more than five times the number of people killed in road traffic accidents.

All of these drugs had been safety tested on animals. The fact that drug safety testing relies so heavily on animal experiments means that there is something wrong with our current testing methods. At best, animal tests will reveal between 5% and 25% of human side effects (however these side effects can only be identified in retrospect).

Many of the deaths from adverse drug reactions are associated with liver failure. In fact, according to the New England Journal of Medicine (2003), liver failure is the most common reason for a drug to be withdrawn from the market. Liver failure also has the poorest correlation with animal toxicity studies (i.e. It doesn't show up in animal experiments).


What is the history of animal research?

Oxford University claim:

Some of the major advances in the last century - anaesthetics, insulin, vaccines, penicillin or other antibiotics - would have been impossible without animal research.

The list of medical advances made possible through animal research includes:

1950s

  • Kidney transplants
  • Polio vaccine
  • Replacement heart valves
  • Hip replacement surgery
  • Drugs for high blood pressure

1960s

  • Heart bypass operations
  • Drugs to treat mental illness
  • Rubella vaccine

1970s

  • Chemotherapy for leukaemia
  • Drugs to treat stomach ulcers
  • Inhaled asthma medication

1980s

  • Drugs to control transplant rejection
  • Life support systems for premature babies
  • Hepatitis vaccines
  • Treatment for river blindness

1990s

  • Meningitis vaccine
  • Combined drug therapies for AIDS
  • Drugs for breast and prostate cancer

In the 21st century scientists are continuing to work on treatments for Alzheimer's disease, gene therapy for inherited disease, and a vaccine against malaria

SPEAK's response:

Simply listing medical advances on a website as Oxford University have done and by making the assertion that they were all reliant on animal experiments and would not have been discovered without them, is an insult to the public's intelligence and to anyone with some knowledge of medical history.

There is not enough scope within a brief FAQ such as this to address every example given by Oxford University. Taking Polio as a case in point, we can illustrate that animal research actually delayed the Polio vaccine throughout the first half of the 20th century.

When polio first appeared around 1835, it rapidly paralysed and killed its victims. In 1908, a virus was suspected and scientists began working on a vaccine. In developing vaccines, it's crucial to determine how the infection enters the body and pathologists discovered the polio virus in human intestines as early as 1912, suggesting entrance through the digestive tract.

Meanwhile, researchers successfully infected monkeys with polio. But because monkeys contract polio nasally rather than orally, this "triumph" only postponed the development of an effective vaccine for decades. Incredibly, the scientists working on the vaccine chose to ignore the human digestive data in favour of the monkey data!

It is true that a "vaccine" was derived from animal experimentation. Manufactured from monkey tissue, this "cure" resulted in six human deaths and 12 cases of paralysis. It was abandoned. Further animal experimentation led to the development of a nasal treatment, which only caused permanent olfactory damage to the children tested.

In 1941, Dr. Albert Sabin studied human autopsies to finally disprove the nasal theory. He found the virus confined to the gastrointestinal tract, as had been documented nearly 30 years earlier.

Sabin later denounced the monkey model blunder: "... prevention was long delayed by the erroneous conception of the nature of the human disease based on misleading experimental models of the disease in monkeys."

Finally, in 1949, Nobel Prize winner John Enders paved the way for a vaccine by growing the virus in tissue cultures. Though the vaccine could have been produced from human tissue, convention prevailed and manufacturers opted to use monkey tissue instead. Containing the live virus, the animal-based vaccine infected 204 people with polio and resulted in 11 documented deaths. It also resulted in at least one virus (SV4O) jumping the species barrier and infecting humans.

Because of that, the polio vaccine is now grown in human diploid-cell culture rather than animal tissue.


Why do we still need animals for research?

Oxford University claim:

Finding cures for diseases can take many years of detailed scientific research. Most work is carried out in a laboratory, with computers or on patients. However, the law requires that at some stage essential information must be collected from research using animals if scientists are to make breakthroughs that can help save people's lives.

SPEAK's response:

Many factors perpetuate animal experimentation, the most obvious of which is momentum. The tradition is so deeply ingrained that the whole system is based on it. Its fundamental acceptance has long allowed it to escape attention. Many doctors and scientists have now started to question it - as evidenced by a recent survey of GPs, in which 82% out of the 500 surveyed were concerned that animal data can be misleading when applied to humans.

Another factor is that researchers are far removed from patient care and really believe that by experimenting on animals they are helping to cure human disease. Also, they attract grant money based on how many papers they publish in the scientific literature. It is much easier and faster to publish papers using animals than by doing human-based research.

There are many other reasons but by far the most important is money. Animal breeders and cage and equipment manufacturers are multi-billion industries. But the biggest beneficiary is the pharmaceutical industry.

Animal tests help them speed new drugs to market and, most significantly, give them a legal defence against public allegations of inadequate safety testing.

Pharmaceutical companies have known for decades that animal testing is scientifically worthless but they use it to provide liability protection when their drugs kill or injure people. Juries are easily swayed by volumes of safety data from rats, mice, dogs and monkeys - even though it is meaningless for humans.

Sadly, nothing has really changed since Thalidomide. Vioxx (2004) was the biggest drug recall in history, leaving thousands of deaths in its wake. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said: "This is a public health emergency which raises grievous questions about the adequacy of our regulatory system."


But how can experimenting on a mouse lead to cures for humans?

Oxford University claim:

Mice share over 90 per cent of their genes with humans. Most of their basic chemistry, cell structure and bodily organisation are the same as ours. In those areas where animals do differ from humans, this is often helpful in understanding more about the function of genes and the basis of disease.

Since animals share many similar diseases with humans, research on animals has helped animals to live longer and healthier lives as well. More than half the drugs used by vets were developed for human medicine.

SPEAK's response:

Mice and humans are separated by over 70 million years of evolution. That means our bodies react in very different ways to the same chemical. Mice and humans share nearly 97% of their DNA - but how significant is that in terms of medical research? Vioxx tested safe in mice, but is now known to have caused tens of thousands of severe adverse drug reactions, including deaths. Chimpanzees and humans share even more of their DNA (98%) than mice. And yet the chimpanzee is immune to AIDS, hepatitis B and common malaria - three diseases that kill millions of people worldwide every year. So much for the similarities between people and animals...


How is animal research controlled?

Oxford University claim:

Malish: monkey in brain experiment

The UK has some of the tightest regulations in the world to ensure that animals used for research are well cared for and that those looking after them adhere to the highest standards. Three levels of licence are required: all animal laboratories must be licensed; all the people working with animals must be trained and have personal licences from the Home Office; and every research project is judged on the balance of cost and benefit before it is licensed. Home Office inspectors frequently check conditions and can suspend work if they fail to meet strict animal welfare standards, or if there is any infringement of a licence.

Special local ethics panels, which normally include at least one person (usually more) not involved in research, must scrutinise applications for project licences to ensure they meet ethical criteria before they are passed to the Home Office for further scrutiny. This process usually takes many months. Researchers must use the minimum number of animals and must prove that animals are necessary and that no alternative exists before they can get a licence.

SPEAK's response:

Fewer than 30 Home Office inspectors are expected to oversee almost three million animal experiments throughout the UK's 300 research institutes. That could help to explain why they almost never uncover any animal welfare contraventions. Several high profile cases of severe animal suffering and abuse have been uncovered by leaked documents and undercover footage. So much for Home Office scrutiny.

An example of the ineffectiveness of the animal welfare laws is the case last year in which police investigated a leading animal researcher at Oxford University for cruelty to a monkey. Despite the fact that he had committed a clear breach of several animal welfare laws, the CPS failed to prosecute the criminal.


Surely alternatives are available for all animal research?

Oxford University claim:

The University of Oxford has been at the forefront of developing and using alternatives to animals in scientific research. Scientists at Oxford were among the first in the world to create computer modelling, or in silico screening, of human organs and systems - such as the the creation of the first 'virtual heart'.

There are a number of alternatives, and researchers must be able to demonstrate that non-animal techniques could not be used for their research before they are granted a Home Office licence. Some of the alternatives include: computer simulation, such as virtual organs or modelling of potential drug therapies; the use of cell and tissue culture experiments; epidemiological studies; and clinical trials involving humans. However, the alternatives cannot replace all animal work. In general, only about 10% of medical research in this country involves the use of animals.

SPEAK's response:

Last year, the Government made a derisory 650,000 available towards developing alternative methods of research. Barely enough to cover the wages of a few researchers and a small office space! That figure contrasted with the millions being poured into the development of the Oxford lab alone - not to mention all the other research facilities in this country - and we get a real understanding why:

Profits and liability protection are the guiding principle, and if animal experiments can provide a sort of "placebo" to protect the pharmaceuticals, then their continuance must be at the top of the agenda. With the provision of data and statistics that these experiments yield, the average layperson can be fooled into thinking that animal experiments are good science.

But the only alternative to a senseless animal experiment is not to do it in the first place. Animal experimentation is bad science. The only alternative to bad science is good science. The following are just some examples of the alternatives that work.


Are the animals well looked after?

Oxford University claim:

Oxford is committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. The well- being of animals in research is extremely important, and all those working with animals take their care very seriously. The monkeys' housing includes plenty of features which encourage a range of normal behaviours

Most research on animals causes little or no discomfort, such as drawing blood samples. Every attempt is made to maximise well-being, and animals are given painkillers and anaesthetics when necessary.

SPEAK's response:

According to the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights (adopted at UNESCO headquarters in 1978), wild animals (e.g. Monkeys) have the right to live in their natural environment. In addition, experiments on animals entailing physical or psychological suffering violate the rights of animals. Animals in cages suffer from the stress of being confined to unnatural conditions, with very little freedom of movement; they are subjected to experimental procedures, most of which are carried out without anaesthetic. Some experiments may last for weeks, months and even years.

That Oxford University gives so little time to detailing the status of the animals in their "care" shows how little regard they actually have for these animals' lives. Their answer suggests that the vast majority of their experiments is limited to taking blood samples. This is an understatement at best, and a downright lie at worst. Regular blood sampling is performed by rote as part of any experiment, but constitutes only a fraction of the procedures carried out during any research project. It is designed to provide information for the calibration of data to later be documented as part of the inevitable scientific paper published at the end of experiments to advance researcher's foothold on the Ladder of Status. Blood samples are taken from experimental animals across the board, whether they are kittens that have had their eyes sewn up, monkeys that have been lobotomised, chemically paralysed or marked for destruction.


How many animals are used in the UK each year?

Oxford University claim:

Official government figures show that just fewer than three million animals are used every year. To put this in perspective, for each person in the UK only about three animals are used for medical research for the whole of their lifetime. On the other hand over 500 million animals are consumed as food in this country every year.

SPEAK's response:

The official figure shows that 3 million animals are used each year, and an increase since pro-vivisection Labour came into office. However, several million more (the exact number is not revealed by the Home Office) are killed either for their body parts or as 'surplus to requirement'.


What sorts of animal are used for research?

Oxford University claim:

According to Home Office figures for 2002, rodents accounted for around 84 per cent of animals used for research in the UK.

SPEAK's response:

Dogs, cats, monkeys, rabbits, rats, mice, guinea pigs, sheep, fish, birds, horses, goats. You name it and the vivisectors abuse it.


What is the University of Oxford's policy on using animals?

Oxford University claim:

The University of Oxford uses animals only in research programmes of the highest quality and only where there are no alternatives. All such work is carried out under licences issued by the Home Secretary after weighing its potential benefits against the effects on the animals concerned. The University is committed to the principles of reduction, refinement and replacement; on each project it ensures that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined to maximise welfare. The University is committed to the highest standards of husbandry and housing, which is why we are constructing the new Biomedical Research Facilty.

SPEAK's response:

There have been several documented cases of severe welfare problems at Oxford University. A damning confidential report on the treatment of animals at Oxford University labs was leaked to the media in March 1988 regarding their ferret colony. In addition, research on dogs and non human primates has revealed a catalogue of shame in terms of deliberately inflicted animal suffering in the name of science (or rather, pseudo- science).

There is no shortage of good brains at Oxford, only a shortage of compassion and common sense.


You have been asked to "free the Oxford Two". What are you doing about this?

Oxford University claim:

All our research using animals is conducted under the strict regulations laid down by the Home Office; this means that, once an animal has reached the end of a period of experiments, it must be humanely killed. For over ten years, the so-called "Oxford Two" provided information leading to valuable understanding of visual impairment caused by strokes or brain injuries - minimising the number of animals that needed to be used in this work. In line with Government regulations, they were humanely put down four years ago.

SPEAK's response:

At five years old, these intelligent, sentient creatures underwent surgery at Oxford University. At five years old, their skulls were cut open and part of their brain was removed. They spent fifteen years imprisoned in a barren cage never feeling the sun, the wind or the rain on their face, never experiencing the natural world into which their forebears were born and were experimented on over and over again by their jailers. Without any respite, without any hope.

They were still being used ten years later in an experiment at the University funded by the Medical Research Council. It was not and is not an isolated incident. It is happening day in day out to hundreds of animals behind the walls of Oxford University.

Oxford University avows that the experiments carried out on these two animals provided invaluable information about visual impairment caused by strokes or brain injuries. A true comparative study COULD NOT take place as neither monkey suffered a stroke, both were brain-damaged under a surgical knife, and subjected to drug-altered states. No one case of brain damage can be identical, since it is dependant on the nuances within an individual's original intellectual/performance capabilities prior to brain damage. The comparative studies carried out by researchers of the primates' responses and those of a brain-damaged homo sapiens could not possibly be correlated; their "performance" under experimental conditions was superior to that of the human.



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