At any given moment, millions of doctors and medical researchers across the globe are working toward a singular goal: that no illness should be a death sentence. One large leap was taken toward accomplishing that goal recently, when for the second time in history an HIV patient was cured of the disease. Like the first case, the cure was a result of a bone marrow transplant intended originally to treat cancer.
Unfortunately, this transplant isn’t likely to have broad application, and the 36.9 million people who struggle with HIV worldwide serve as a reminder that the fight is far from over. Hope for a cure, however, is threatened by activists who are lobbying to shut down all animal research, despite its proven benefits for medical science.
Nobel Medical Laureate Peter C. Doherty puts it best in saying, “There is no alternative to the use of animals for analyzing the complexity of immunity.” In other words, we can’t fight disease in computer simulations. Sometimes we need to use lab rats to help find cures for human (and animal) ailments.
The most noteworthy advances in modern medicine are linked to animal research. Deaths from coronary artery disease, the world’s deadliest disease, have been halved over the last 30 years through medical advances developed through the same research. If you know someone who takes one of the 25 most prescribed medications, then you know someone whose life has been greatly affected, if not saved, by animal research.
Through animal research, scientists learned of SIV, a parallel disease to HIV, that monkeys experience. This discovery led to the first medicines for HIV patients. Given the similarities between SIV and HIV, animal research holds the promise of leading to an HIV cure accessible to all.
But some animal activist groups are lobbying to restrict animal research — and even intimidate researchers — in their quest to shut it down completely. To quote Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: “Even if animal research resulted in a cure for AIDS … we’d be against it.”
PETA’s work has included paying legal fees for an arsonist who burned down a university lab and harassing researchers.
Christine Lattin is a prime example. Lattin studies stress in birds in order to understand animals and human reaction in challenging conditions — research that could give insight into mental health.
PETA, however, targeted Yale University administrators, calling for an end to Lattin’s research. The organization made viral videos targeting her and encouraged activists to harass her in on the internet and in person, going so far as to show up at her house.
Charities are also in the line of fire. Activists with the Berkeley-based Direct Action Everywhere, which supports “solidarity” with lab rats, harassed Cancer Research UK over the charity’s support for animal research. Closer to home, animal activists have targeted St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital over its support for animal research.
This campaign is a chilling reminder of previous extreme initiatives. A group called Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty harassed employees associated with a biomedical research company, and even targeted those who merely did business with them. In 2009, a University of California neuroscientist’s car was set on fireat his home by the Animal Liberation Front, an FBI-designated domestic terror group. One of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists was allegedly involved in two bombings of a biotech company. There’s plenty of reason to worry that recent attacks on research could escalate.
It’s important to ensure animals used in research are treated as humanely as possible — and despite the claims of animal liberation groups, they are. Animal research is regulated heavily by the USDA and institutional care committees at universities, among other oversight.
We are near the possibility of ending a deadly virus that has plagued our society for over 50 years and taken the lives of more than 39 million people. It’s our duty to do whatever we possibly can to advance the research fighting AIDS, cancer and other diseases. Animal research is a vital and necessary tool in this progress.