since we receive funding from the EU.” China is a real competitor, and hopes to dominate the market within 20 or 30 years if Europe decides to ban research on NHPs. Alternatives Why not do away with animal models altogether? The first “R” in the “3Rs”—”replace”—has been interpreted by animal rights groups as replacing live animals entirely by in vitro or in silico alternatives (computer models). “This ‘alternative tests’ business is completely non-existent,” exclaims Garattini. “Cells cultivated in vitro are not living organisms. If you are investigating whether a drug alleviates pain, or has an effective cognitive function, it is no help to look at the cells or ask a computer. True enough, 70% of research at our center is done in vitro, but these are complimentary studies, not alternatives.” As for computer models, “they are great, but they are often based on data obtained from animal experiments,” adds Lemon. “For example, after someone suffers a paralyzing spinal cord injury, complex changes occur at the cellular and molecular level. These are difficult to replicate in a non-animal model system, particularly with regard to the actual wiring of the nervous pathways in the spinal cord. The FEATURE most promising treatments have required years of research14 involving many animals,” he says. Another argument put forth by anti-vivisectionists is that some animal models are too different from humans to be of use. “There is not a single animal that is good for everything,” adds Garattini. “For instance, we have performed studies on drugs that act on lipids—for treating cholesterol. Mice are not very useful, rats are somehow sensitive, but rabbits display a very important parallel with humans for that kind of research. For Ebola, it is important to select certain types of monkeys, for others, it is dogs and so on,” he adds. “We are doing research. We are at the frontier of knowledge, so many times, we get it wrong. But if you look at history, we have been able to cure many ailments in humans by experimenting on animals. Furthermore, the fact that there is some kind of transferability means that many drugs that have been developed for humans are also used to treat animals.” “Many drugs that have been developed for humans are also used to treat animals.” A proactive approach “There has been insufficient public debate on why this research is necessary, and the Italian situation is a warning to us all,” insists Lemon. He is not alone. The research community now encourages greater communication on the subject. “We have had a long tradition of discretion about our research. This is disastrous In the long run, since it creates the impression that animal testing does not exist,” explains Treue, who was an important architect of the 2010 Basel Declaration, a public appeal for animal research signed by 3500 scientists.15 In France, Lachapelle presides the GIRCOR,16 a think-tank that provides information about animal research to the government and general public and includes 40 research institutions and universities. This communication model is now ubiquitous in many countries and throughout Europe.17 “In my opinion, biomedical research is on the brink of extremely exciting developments,” says Lemon. “Unfortunately, the pressing demands of complex degenerative diseases in humans will probably mean an increase in the use of animal models, but this should not be considered as a problem as long as we continue to uphold the 3Rs,” he concludes. He thus echoes the voice of another concerned scientist, who in 1875 wrote to the president of the Royal Society—then also under attack from antivivisectionist groups: “The object is to protect animals, and at the same time not to injure physiology.” His name was Charles Darwin. ii 23 SPRING 2015 N° 37 Ongoing cognitive research on NHPs. To get its reward, the rhesus macaque must make specific gestures following visual stimulation. A researcher measures its cerebral activity during each experiment.
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