Visiting speaker argues animal research harms humans

There are negative consequences of animal research from a scientific perspective, according to US doctor

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The use of animals in research on human diseases is actually harmful to humans, according to Ray Greek, a medical doctor and president of Americans for Medical Advancement.

After researching the subject for decades, he presented a cumulation of his work at a talk at SFU Harbour Centre last week, the first in a series of events organized by the Animal Defense and Anti-Vivisection Society of BC.

“We base the decision about what drugs to develop and how diseases occur [. . .] on animal studies and, more frequently than not, it’s wrong,” said Greek, adding that indirect harm to humans also results from spending money on animal-based research that could be allocated to human-based research.

A second talk, also examining personalized medicine and the use of animals to model human responses to drugs and disease, took place at the University of British Columbia on June 20.

When completing a residency in anesthesiology, Greek noticed that the drugs he learned about in medical school and those his wife studied in veterinary school were different. As it turned out, some drugs that are beneficial to animals are fatal to humans.

This led Greek to question the role of research using animals in hopes of curing human diseases.

“Animals and humans are both evolved complex systems, that’s the reason why animal-based research just doesn’t apply to humans,” he explained.

A complex system is that which is composed of a variety of components on many different scales. At the lower levels of organization, the parts are interchangeable, said Greek.

While a cell may be able to replace another cell, the bottom line is that it doesn’t work to use animals to study responses that occur at the level of pharmaceutical drugs and diseases, Greek emphasized.

A commonly-cited case study of the problems with using animals to measure responses in humans includes the anti-inflammatory drug Vioxx, sold in the US in the late 1990s and 2000s. Though animal data showed that the drug was safe, it was connected to the death of tens of thousands of human patients over the years.

“There have been changes [to research methods],” explained Greek. “People have recognized for many decades that animal models failed to predict human response and so they’ve come up with more transgenic animal models — they’ve come up with different ways to manipulate the animal genetically in hopes of making it more like humans.”

However, Greek noted that even the remaining differences between humans and animals are enough to compromise the results.

“The government and people in academia have been selling this to society for many, many years, telling people that their drug supply is safe when it is tested on animals,” he said. “There’s a lot of accountability issues with people in the government and people in academia and those people are not at all receptive to what I have to say — not because the science is bad, but because there are some pretty major implications.”

Greek said that pharmaceutical companies are advancing toward human-based research because of their motivation to do what benefits the company. The same push has not been replicated in academia.  

With current technology, Greek noted that researchers can decrease their reliance on animal-based research.

“The point that a lot of people seem to miss is that what we are doing now doesn’t work,” he said. “The whole process is really outdated and should be abandoned.”