Posted by Dr Jarrod Bailey on 19th February 2016
Concerns raised over the use of human-animal hybrids
New guidelines might encourage and facilitate, rather than control and limit, the use of human-animal hybrids in experiments
The Home Office recently published guidance on the use of ‘animals containing human material’- or animal-human hybrids- in scientific research in the UK1. It might be hoped that these guidelines would serve to strictly regulate these kinds of experiments. However, we believe it is likely that these guidelines will instead facilitate and even encourage them.
First, the guidelines are based on a 2011 report by the Academy of Medical Sciences, an organisation that advocates experiments on animals. In our response to this report at the time, we highlighted our opinion that there was an unfounded assumption that the use of genetically modified (GM) animals was vital to find treatments for human disease. The Academy, we said, had not addressed an important aspect of this issue - the scientific validity and human relevance of research using GM animals - which increasing evidence shows to be highly questionable. In fact, the reality that some scientists wish to ‘humanise’ animals at all is indicative of the failings of animal experiments in delivering human medical benefit.
Secondly, we believe our concerns over the guidelines are supported by the language used by the Home Office and the Academy in their description of them. An article in The Times (February 11th, 2016)2 titled ‘New rules to boost research into human-animal hybrids’, states that ‘The Home Office hopes that the simplified rules will make Britain a centre of the research’. With regard to growing human organs for transplant in animals (xenotransplantation), the president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said “These guidelines could put the UK ahead of other countries, by making it the place where this research can come to fruition,” The agenda is clear, and does not involve any genuine and detailed critical analysis of the worth of this type of research, and its chances of translating to new treatments for patients.
We would argue, however, that, at a time of considerable and burgeoning evidence of the misleading nature and failure of animal experiments, of the extent of suffering involved in animal research, and of the much greater human relevance and therefore potential of success of humane alternatives, it is regressive to encourage and facilitate the use of human-animal hybrids. Taking xenotransplantation (the transplantation of living cells, tissues or organs from one species to another) as just one example, the field is replete with cycles of promise in animals followed by disappointment in humans over many years. Furthermore, Yet, there are alternative solutions to the problem of human organ shortages for transplant.
Cruelty Free International Senior Research Scientist, Dr Jarrod Bailey said;
“We are concerned that these new regulations will facilitate, rather than restrict and regulate, the controversial use of human-animal hybrids in science. At a time when there is more evidence than ever before that experimenting on animals is a failed approach in our efforts to understand and treat human diseases, this is a particularly disappointing sign of the direction in which British science is stubbornly heading. Animals are biologically very different to humans, and no amount of ‘humanising’ them will surmount this. We believe the use of human-animal hybrids will result in more animals suffering in laboratories -an issue which raises strong public concern - and also more human suffering as apparent successes in animal experiments continue to fail to translate to treatments for patients. Britain will only become a ‘leader’ in biomedical research if the scientific establishment pays heed to the evidence, and moves away from using animals to embrace more humane, and human relevant, methods of research instead.”
1. Home Office. Guidance on the use of Human Material in Animals. Advice Note 01/16. January 2016. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-on-the-use-of-human-material-in-animals
2. New rules to boost research into human-animal hybrids. Tom Whipple, Science Editor. The Times, February 11 2016. http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4688048.ece