World AIDS Disaster - Animal Research is hindering HIV Cure
Millions have been spent on animal-based Aids research. The result? HIV vaccines for monkeys. For humans, nothing.
The battle against HIV has been seriously undermined by reliance on unscientific animal-based medical research. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted on animal experimentation that has no relevance to finding a vaccine and cure for HIV because HIV is a uniquely human disease. It doesn't have the same devastating effect on other species.
This is the conclusion of a damning new report, Still Dying of Ignorance? 25 years of failed primate AIDS research:
published today - World AIDS Day - by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).
Written by Dr Katy Taylor, it gives a comprehensive review of HIV research (HIV is the virus that causes AIDS). Her report documents the failure of a quarter of a century of research with monkeys, cats and other non-human species.
This failure was inevitable. The physiology of human and non-human species is very different. Medical findings that apply to animals cannot be simplistically applied to humans. We cannot understand and cure HIV by using inappropriate animal research subjects.
Dr Taylor's report highlights how research using primates has delivered 30 vaccines which protect monkeys from contracting their version of HIV (SIV), but which fail to protect humans.
Her report reveals how fundamental differences in the way primates react to HIV means that animal research has proved largely irrelevant to finding a cure or vaccine for HIV in humans.
The BUAV's report also demonstrates that the most effective and widely used treatments for HIV, such as protease inhibitors and 3TC, have been developed using computer modelling and by studying infected human cells in test tubes (in vitro).
Despite this overwhelming scientific evidence, the Medical Research Council continues to pour millions of pounds of tax-payers money into pointless efforts to find a vaccine by experimenting on primates and other species.
BUAV Chief Executive Michelle Thew said: "Our report shows the most crucial breakthroughs in AIDS research have come from studies that did not involve laboratory animals, and that experiments using test tube and human volunteer studies are giving scientists the knowledge they need to treat a peculiarly human virus."
She added: "There is a clear need to divert the money, expertise and effort into boosting research methods that are delivering results for human health, as well as sparing primates from pointless and painful experiments. Our report shows that not only do non-animal test methods have a long history of success in fighting AIDS, these humane alternatives also provide the brightest hope for the future."
The findings of the BUAV report are echoed today by the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, www.drhadwentrust.org.uk, a non-animal medical research charity funding ground-breaking HIV research at University College London. It warns that unless we move away from misdirected animal experiments to human-based research, we will be squandering an opportunity to save millions of lives. Ending animal experiments is the key to medical progress on HIV and other diseases, according to the Dr Hadwen Trust.
Worldwide, more than 25 million people have died from HIV since the disease was first identified in 1981. Nearly 40 million people, including millions of children, are infected with HIV.
Dr Gill Langley, Science Director for the Dr Hadwen Trust, says:
"Although drugs can reduce illness and deaths from AIDS, it remains a major global killer and there is still no cure or vaccine despite more than two decades of animal experimentation. Throwing more money at more animal experiments is wasting lives, both animal and human. We already know how misleading animal models can be in HIV / AIDS research, and with an epidemic of such gross proportions, it is scandalous that we persist in studying the wrong virus in the wrong species."
The Dr Hadwen Trust is funding research at University College London to devise the first-ever test-tube method for culturing a fungal pneumonia-causing pathogen that is particularly common in immuno-compromised AIDS patients. The project is using donated samples of human lung cells from infected patients and could revolutionise research in this field.
Dr Jim Huggett, Senior Research Fellow at UCL, says:
"Pneumocystis jirovecii represents a serious pathogen that is an increasing problem in the West and a significant cause of mortality in the developing world. Establishing a simple culture strategy would have a major impact on our understanding of this organism and effectively remove the need for the use of animals in its research."
The Dr Hadwen Trust echoes the conclusions of the BUV report: for over two decades, chimpanzees, monkeys, cats and mice have been used in HIV experiments despite the fact that HIV infection does not cause AIDS in any animal other than humans.
Researchers are not able to study the right virus - HIV - in animals because it does not affect them in the way it affects people. There are very significant differences in how the virus behaves and how infection manifests itself in different animal species.
Dr Langley argues that international efforts and funds should be focused on non-animal research, using super computers, human cells and tissues, and safe human volunteer studies. Future research needs to concentrate on studying the right virus in the right species - HIV in humans.
Dr Langley concludes:
"Non-animal techniques have made an exceptionally important contribution to HIV/AIDS research. In fact, virtually every major research milestone has resulted from non-animal studies such as molecular techniques measuring HIV in the bloodstream; genetic techniques to show how the HIV virus mutates rapidly in humans; test-tube techniques to demonstrate how HIV infects human cells; human cell and tissue cultures to test new drugs; computational programmes like QSARs to design new drugs and mathematical models to better understand the infection process."
This World AIDS Day it is time to ditch the old, discredited and wasteful methods of animal experimentation, and embrace instead the twenty-first century science of human-based research to find cures for uniquely human diseases like HIV.
Click here to return to the Animal Rights Index