What species are used for animal experiments?
André Menache (antidote Europe): First of all, it is necessary to know in which cases animal tests are authorized. Regulation, ie animal testing in laboratories, represents between 20 and 25% of experiments, training and education less than 5%, and scientific research (fundamental and applied research) between 50 and 70%.
In France, between 3 and 4 million animals are used per year, so around 25% of this figure refers to animal testing in laboratories. About 85% of the animals are rodents, mainly mice. Non-rodent mammals include pigs (about 12,000 per year), dogs, and monkeys (about 3,000 to 4,000 per species per year).
Why are these species used?
There are two very simple answers. As far as basic and applied research is concerned, which mainly happens in universities and research institutions, it is rodents that are used because it is much cheaper and much more practical. They live for two or three years, so you’ll get your results much faster than if you had to wait for a monkey to become an adult. Also, mice are mammals like humans, they are small, they reproduce easily and they are easy to house, so scientists are happy with that.
Regarding regulations, that is, the exams required by regulations, it is necessary to study the history of medicine a little. We go back to the doctors’ trial in Nuremberg at the end of the Second World War in 1946. It was decided to regulate human experimentation because of what the Nazis had done.
Specifically, it was decided that before moving to humans with clinical trials, the drugs should be tested on two animal species, which must be rodents and non-rodents. The rodent is often the mouse, and the non-rodent the dog or the monkey. The dog for the classic drug, and the monkey, which is the closest animal to humans behind the chimpanzee, for vaccines and drugs that have an effect on the immune system.
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At the time it seemed consistent to test on a rodent and on a larger mammal, and therefore closer to humans, for more control. But we are now in 2022, 76 years later. Science has evolved! However, we are still stuck with that same regulation.
Dogs are mostly beagles. Because ?
The beagle is used because it is a very affectionate and very docile dog. Researchers can do almost anything with it, and the dog will always lick your hand. It is really a betrayal of our best friend… And besides, today I am very pleased that there are huge public demonstrations against its creation and its use in many countries.
What do we do with animals and what happens to them?
There are three levels of suffering recognized by the regulations.
Light procedures: for example, force-feeding beagle dogs with drugs and chemicals. When we want to test a drug, to make sure that the animal has swallowed it, we will put a tube directly into its stomach, without anesthesia or painkillers. If it’s a drug to be taken three times a day, the animal will be force-fed three times a day, and these are usually tests that last up to three months. Even such a docile dog can’t take it anymore.
Moderate procedures: it is, for example, transplanting an organ from one animal to another animal, like transplanting a kidney from a pig to a monkey. It’s not just the operation itself, but also the consequence, where the animal will be kept alive for a few months, which causes a lot of suffering.
Severe procedures: can lead to the death of the animal. It is, for example, an infection of the brain membranes due to meningitis. If the animal is lucky and we see that it is almost dead, during the opening hours of the team, it will be euthanized. But if it’s night or weekend, bad luck, he’ll agonize and die alone…
So almost all laboratory animals are killed at the end of the study. If we take the example of the marketing authorization, we force-feed these dogs for three months and in the end we have to kill them to examine all the organs for damage, side effects. Animal adoptions at the end of the study are extremely rare.
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Why does animal testing persist?
This allows the pharmaceutical industry to obtain marketing authorization (MA) much faster than if it were to undergo tests based only on human material (human cell cultures, organs on a chip, etc.)
These technologies are, however, very powerful, and the pharmaceutical industry uses them before moving on to animals.
That’s because, for regulatory agencies, animal testing data is something they’ve known for a long time. On the other hand, when they are introduced to a new technology, they say that they don’t know and that the effectiveness must be demonstrated to them.
To validate a new method, it must be tested in three laboratories recognized by the European Commission. There is a 30th in Europe. If all three validate, the method is validated. The 2nd step is to obtain approval from member states. This is usually not a problem, but it can take some time.
But we don’t force the pharmaceutical industry to use animals, it’s a choice to go faster.
How do we go from animal testing to humans?
For MA, after the pharmaceutical industry tests its drug in a rodent and a non-rodent, it will move on to human clinical trials. The first tests are performed on healthy volunteers.
What happens most often is that the results obtained in rodents and non-rodents are broadly similar in terms of drug efficacy and safety.
From there, the health security agency will give authorization to proceed to the first clinical trials. They will compare the results from humans and what we saw in animals. And it often doesn’t match. Suddenly, they are forced to return to the laboratory and carry out new tests, in other species of animals, to obtain results that correspond to the data obtained in healthy volunteers.
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These differences in results are explained in particular because we are not dogs, or 70 kg apes, and we are separated from the dog by about 86 million years of evolution, and from the ape ape by 25 million years. .
Will the law in France change?
We have technologies that we didn’t have before, so it’s a matter of putting pressure on the pharmaceutical industry and its shareholders. I’m very optimistic about that.
Let’s take an example in the United States, with botox, which contains the toxic botulinum, the most powerful poison on the planet. There are millions of mice that have been used for decades to test batches before they are used. But the largest animal protection association, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), managed to convince the manufacturer to replace animal testing.
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One of their members attended the shareholders’ meetings and simply explained to them what was happening with the rats. Botulinum venom paralyzes the muscles so their chests can no longer move and the animals are in agony, only to die of asphyxia.
Shareholders then pressured the manufacturer, who got down to business, and developed a method based on cultured human neuronal cells.
What is more difficult is the use of animals in universities. Teachers have used rats and mice throughout their careers, so they don’t want to change. And young researchers have been given that same dogma from their professors, so they don’t want to change either.
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