The leading causes of death have changed markedly over the years. A century ago, infections were the leading causes of death. Today, we will probably survive much longer than our ancestors but it is more likely we will die of age-related diseases like mobility problems, arthritis and Alzheimer’s or other chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer or stroke. What is evident is that different factors in our individual genetics and lifestyles are coming together to shape the ultimate cause of each of our deaths more than ever before.
Just like the causes of death have progressed so too must our approach to their research and treatment. We need to question the continuous use of traditional research models that are unable to reflect today’s complex, chronic and individually unique diseases. Instead, we should exploit the latest scientific alternatives that are far more representative of modern diseases and take a more personalised approach to medicine; one that recognises that disease risk and response to treatments vary greatly from person to person.
Take identical twins, you can’t get much more similar than that. They develop from a single fertilized egg which means they have the same genes. And yet, despite their identical gene set, if they were both to grow up and develop breast cancer, say, it is quite probable that they will each have a different type of breast cancer that responds to a different class of drugs. This illustrates the influence of factors other than genes in our environments that are involved in disease progression.
So if differences in disease between genetically identical twins can be so profound then it is understandable that they are even more diverse between individuals of the same species but who have different genomes. Imagine, then, the differences with other species with whom we share even less genetics, biochemistry and lifestyle. Results from animal models have always been unreliable when transferred to humans, but they are simply unable to mimic the multitude of factors that influence us over an entire human lifetime to culminate in the kinds of diseases we are dying of today.
In 2010 the Coalition Government promised to reduce the number of animals used in medical research. It has broken that promise five consecutive times as numbers of animals used each year has consistently increased. This highlights not only another five broken promises of this untrustworthy Government but it prolongs the suffering of people waiting for effective treatments and it subjects millions of animals to pain and death unnecessarily. Any Government must have the courage to honor the obligations of researchers to scientific integrity, fulfill their responsibilities to the public who fund their endeavours and, above all, remember the hapless patients and families.
On World Day for Animals in Laboratories on Saturday 25th April, please bear in mind that the forthcoming general election presents parties with the opportunity to turn the hopes of our patients into reality by committing to modern, more personalised human-relevant research that can offer answers to the big health killers of today.
The political systems of the other parties all prop up the gratuitous institutionalised violence of animal research; giving them your vote is giving the thumbs up to continue. But just like there are alternatives to animal models, no matter what the people who govern will have you believe, so too is there an alternative system that makes the current one obsolete:
- It’s a system that stands up for the common good which includes other species too.
- It’s a system that realises that animals have an intrinsic value of their own and their purpose on this planet is not all about human satisfaction.
- It’s a system of common sense that recognises that the answer to our longevity doesn’t lie in a mouse.
- It’s a system that recognises that animal experiments are unreliable and dangerously misleading for patients because non human species are different from us and they don’t get the same diseases as we do or respond to drugs in the same way.
This system is the Green Party’s system and, unlike other parties, our policies are based upon evidence and come with scientific backing. As far as medical research goes, we will fulfill patient hopes by ensuring that research funding is directed away from failing animal disease models and towards modern human specific techniques which offer greater opportunities to cure our killer diseases and improve drug safety.
We will achieve this with a step by step strategy that phases out animals alongside increased funding for modern non animal alternatives and updated regulations to see their quicker development, validation and approval. It’s a system that works for people, animals and the environment in recognition of the connection between all three. Now, isn’t that a system worth voting for in May?