animals, animal testing, human, vegan, animal experimentation, united states, drugs, human biology, experiments, experimentation, people, animal welfare act, effective, meaning, diseases, akhtar, tests, centre, pigs, vaccines
Emilia Leese, Ayisha Akhtar
Emilia Leese 00:09
Hello, I’m Emi Leese s and welcome to the latest episode of Think like a vegan, a companion podcast to our book, also entitled think like a vegan. In each episode, I’ll explore one topic related to veganism. One that might not be the focus of an everyday conversation, some we touched on in our book, and here we’ll have the chance to take a closer look. I hope these short talks will inspire you and expand the conversation around veganism. Medical research and testing methods need to start and end with human biology. That’s the tagline for the Centre for Contemporary science. Its co founder and president Dr. Akhtar will be joining us today I find that tagline very compelling. Recently, I had the pleasure to talk with students of Kent place school in New Jersey in the US in its Ethics Institute. The Institute is a first of its kind in the US at the primary and secondary level. One of the questions they asked me and one vegans will sometimes be asked is what we think about animal experimentation for medical reasons is animal experimentation necessary to ensure we have effective medicine for people. Today, I’m delighted to welcome the president and co founder of the Centre for Contemporary science. Dr. Ayisha Akhtar. Welcome. Dr. Akhtar. Hi, Emilia.
Aysha Akhtar 01:47
Thank you so much for having me.
Emilia Leese 01:50
Thank you so much for joining us. We’re We’re honoured Absolutely. The centre works on replacing animal experimentation with more effective methods of research and testing based on human biology. They do this through education, policy and scientific partnerships. Before we hear from Dr. Akhtar, here’s a bit about her background. Dr. Akhtar is a double board certified neurologist and preventive medicine specialist with a background in public health. She’s also a US veteran, serving as Deputy Director of the US Army traumatic brain injury programme. She was also a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration. And she has authored many journal contributions and books. And on top of all this, she’s an artist to making beautiful vibrant paintings. Our guest, Dr. Akhtar will tell us a bit about the origins of the work of the CCS and will explain to us how human biology based methods offer a more effective way to understand the diseases that afflict us, enabling researchers to predict how people may respond to medicines and chemicals with far greater accuracy than animal tests. The outcome of this, of course, is better treatments, therapies and cures, which seems to me what everyone would want, after all, so I’m very much looking forward to learning more. With that, doctor, actor, the floor is yours.
Aysha Akhtar 03:17
Thank you so much. So what I thought I would do is just really give a very brief overview of some of the main points about the use of animals and experimentation, including the issues concerning the animals themselves, and what they, you know, the the numbers of animals use, as well as some of the the scientific issues concerning animal experimentation. So if we were to think about how many animals are used worldwide, the best we can do is guess an estimate. And that is because many countries, and I hate to say this, but the US is one of them have very little transparency on not only how many animals are used, but how they’re used and how much governmental funding goes towards their use. But based on the information we do have, we can guess that worldwide, more than 200 million animals are used in experimentation. More than 100 million are used in the US. And again, that is an estimate. But so it could be very low, that estimate could be very low. And the top three nations that are currently conducting experiments on animals are the US, Japan, and China. And China has become a huge new entity in regards to animal experimentation and they may have they may be the number one nation now as far as the number of animals used and experimentation.
And, again, if we were to think about how and why animals are using experimentation, we can look at some statistics etc in the UK because at least they have some transparency about how the animals are used. And so based on those statistics, what we know is that, and we can probably pretty much extrapolate that information to most other countries, including the United States, the app, actual numbers of animals use are different, but the ways in which they’re used, and the percentage of how many animals are used in different categories are probably pretty consistent. So what we do know is that about 25% of animals are probably used for what’s called regulatory, regulatory testing. And here we’re talking about what most people think animal testing is for, which is for household products, cosmetic ingredients, chemical ingredients, chemicals that are used for industry for agriculture, for numerous different reasons, as well as for drug development. And so animals are used to test the safety and effectiveness of drugs in definitely in the United States. It’s a regulation here, and it’s regulation throughout most of Europe, if not everywhere in Europe. Now, what most people don’t know is that actually the majority of animals are used are not used in because they are required to be used by law. Actually, most animals are used under the category called basic research. And this, there is no requirement anywhere in any country, for animals to be used in under this category. And basic research basically means curiosity driven research that largely takes place at academic institutions across the world. And so like here in the United States, one form of basic research is where researchers capture songbirds from the while, brought them into the lab scramble the part of their brain to see how that would affect their singing. And that is not only legally allowed, it is paid for by our tax dollars. And so, you know, when you think about all these shock experiments, and so many other types of experiments, most of those are under the guise of basic research. So that is actually where most animals were used. And that has no tangible and benefit for humans. The researchers are hoping that maybe it will lead to something that might help humans but there is no direct line whatsoever. And that is not required by law. Now, in the United States, we can count how many animals are used by looking at the species that are covered under the Animal Welfare Act. And I’ll get to a point there about the Animal Welfare Act, but the Animal Welfare Act is basically the only federal legislation in the United States that covers animals use and experimentation. And so in 2018 of those species that are covered under the animal welfare at about 70,000 non human primates were used, bout 60,000 dogs were used and with for dogs, it’s mostly beagles, because Beagles are very passive and gentle creatures. So it’s easier to manipulate them and use them in experiments, about 20,000 cats and rabbits and hamsters. Now, about 50,000, pigs were used and pigs are increasingly being used in the United States and perhaps in other countries, not because they’re more accurate models of human disease. But because there is a less of a PR issue with using pigs, people get very upset with the idea of dogs being used, but fewer people seem to care about the suffering of pig. So pigs are increasingly being used in experimentation now in the United States in 2018, by self reports from the laboratory, so these are self reports. So you can guess that this number is probably very low. But laboratory self reported that about 310,000 animals of those animals that are covered under the Animal Welfare Act, we’re involved in experiments that involve pain. Of those 60,000 were reported as being involved in experiments that involve pain, but for which no pain medicine was given whatsoever. So
that was 60,000. And it’s important to note those were only the animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act. So the Animal Welfare Act is the only federal statute in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals using experimentation. Now a few key points so it excludes 95% of animals used and experimentation. It excludes the majority of animals used and that was done intentionally. So mice, rats, birds, reptiles, you know, cold blooded animals, invertebrates They are excluded from the Animal Welfare Act. So that 60,000 number of animals used in painful experiments and were not given medications to relieve their pain. That number is actually much higher if we were to include most if we include to include all the animals used and experimentation, including those not covered by the animal welfare rat, and poor little mice and rats are incredibly abused in experiments, because again, there was less of a PR issue. For those animals that are covered, the Animal Welfare Act basically just provides a checklist approach, meaning that labs just have to say check off certain boxes to say that they’ve done certain things meaning that they have to say yes, there’s this they have dogs in a certain cage size. And yes, they provide food and water for their non human primates, for example. But And here’s another important point, the animal welfare provides no limits on what can be done to animals, no matter the amount and degree of pain and suffering, meaning if I’m an experimenter in the United States, and I think that with holding that I need to starve my monkeys for two weeks, because that is important to the outcome of the research. I can starve them for two weeks, if I want to burn pigs alive, and not give them any pain medication, because I think that’s going to interfere with the study results. I can burn pigs alive, and not give them any medication to alleviate the pain. So the Animal Welfare Act is it pretty much is a non existent regulation. And even though some countries in Europe are better, the truth is that, from from what I’ve seen, in most countries, the situations for animals are pretty dismal, no matter what you just can and cannot get around the fact that you are taking animals doing invasive experiments on animals harming them in the name of research for very dubious results. So, unfortunately, attempts to really reduce the use of animals and experimentation worldwide has not really worked so well when it comes to when we use a tactic that predominantly focuses on the suffering of animals. Because unfortunately, most people just really still give a pass to the use of animals and experimentation to suffering doesn’t override what they think are the human health needs. But my experience at the Food and Drug Administration, my experience with the army, in my experience, as a neurologist, and other forms of experiences have really caused me to reframe the ethics to not only ask is animal experimentation ethical for animals, which of course it is not. But is it even ethical for humans? And to answer that question, we have to ask is animal experimentation an effective use of resources? And does it reliably inform human health?
Emilia Leese 13:08
We’ll stop here for a short musical break and return with Dr. Aisha actor to hear more about the Centre for Contemporary science. This is a snippet from nostalgia of an ex gangster rapper by Deif. We’re back for the second part of Dr. Act RS briefing on how human biology rather than animal experimentation in medicine yields better results and outcomes for people.
Okay, so before the break, we talked a little bit about you know, reframing the ethics really asked is animal experimentation ethical for humans. And in order to answer that we have to ask is an effective use of resources and does animal testing or experimentation of reliably informed human health? Well, I can’t go into huge amounts of details but I can give you one significant number that is mind boggling. When you think about it, in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration, which is the regulatory agency that oversees drug drug development, requires with rare exception requires that every new drug coming through the pipeline must be tested on at least two different species for safety and effectiveness, before they can proceed to human clinical trials. Okay, so, but here’s the thing, we have a 90 to 95% failure rate in drug development. What that means is 90 to 95% of the drugs and vaccines that passed animal tests that are found safe and effective in those animal tests end up failing when tried in humans, they mostly fail because they are unsafe or ineffective in humans. So 95% failure in animal testing, to predict whether the drugs and vaccines are going to be safe and effective in humans. Now think about that 95% failure rate. It is mind boggling if you were to hop on a plane, and the pilot said, Alright, strapped down, ladies and gentlemen, because we have less than a 5% chance of landing safely at our destination, everyone would hop off the plane and demand an overhaul of the entire airline industry. But that’s not happening with the drug developer model, even though these are drugs, that people enrol in clinical trials, based on the idea that animal tests will protect them. But that is not the case. So it really shows how poorly predictive animal testing is. And that number is a staggering number. And if we were just to go through some certain examples, for example, I can give you some statistics and stroke experiments. So in animals, strokes are artificially induced in them. And stroke is usually caused by a blood clot in the brain or or narrowing a blood vessel. And so those are artificially induced, as most of the diseases in animals in the in laboratories are artificially induced. So they are not the same as a naturally incurring human diseases, in addition to the fact that these are diseases in different species, so they manifest differently in these other animals. But nevertheless, so more than 700x treatments, experimental treatments were found effective in animal stroke experiments of those more than 150 have been tested in human clinical trials. And not one has proven effective in humans. HIV vaccines, the US especially has been pouring millions of our tax dollars into finding vaccines that will prevent HIV. More than 90 of these vaccines have been have been found effective in animal experiments. And that includes mostly non human primates, and until recently, mostly chimpanzees. Out of those 30, more than 30 have been tested in humans, not one has been found effective in human clinical trials. In fact, two of the vaccines were found to actually increase the risk of HIV in human clinical trials. And just last year, or was it 2020, after 10 years were spent on just organising the clinical trials, and more than $100 million was spent, and of on a on a vaccine that was found to be effective in monkeys. That vaccine again, failed in human clinical trials, that we can just keep on going down the list of so many drugs and vaccines that were that worked in the animals and ended up failing in human clinical trials. So if I were to just kind of summarise some of the harms, what that result from an ineffective testing system, which is animal experimentation, I would say this. So one, the first harm human harm that occurs is that there are adverse events, meaning safety problems that happen in humans that were not predicted by the animal tests. So about 30% of the drugs and vaccines fail in clinical trials, because safety problems arise that were not predicted by the animal tests. So you think about these, these are people who are putting their lives at risk to enrol to participate voluntarily in clinical trials. And they’re putting their lives at risk based on misleading animal testing. Then we also know about many drugs that were recalled later on or given labels because of safety problems that we learned later on to the number. The second human harm that occurs out of animal testing is an ineffective use of time, money and resources. I mean, think about it that one HIV vaccine that failed in 2020 10 years was just spent on the human clinical For trials, more than $100 million was spent just on that one vaccine. And that failed, even though it worked in, in non human primates. So think how much more effective we could use that money that time and seemingly bright minds, if they use their money, they use their their skills into a more effective line of research. And the third human harm that occurs is actually the very likeliness that we’ve actually thrown away effective drugs and vaccines that would have worked in animals, but they were abandoned and discarded because they didn’t work in the animal tests. And we have enough evidence now to suggest that this is the enough near misses, meaning drugs that were almost abandoned because of misleading results in animals. But fortunately, they were not. And they ended up being very effective for many of the drugs, including for many human diseases, including tamoxifen, which is one of the most used drugs against breast cancer. And so think about the possibility that we have thrown away effective treatments, maybe even cures because of misleading experiments on animals.
So, in 2020, I helped co found the Centre for Contemporary sciences. As Emilia discussed earlier, we’re a nonprofit organisation United States, and we’re trying to help. Our goal is to end animal testing, at least in the United States, and hopefully in the European nations in 30 years. And I actually believe that’s an achievable mission. So our mission or vision is saving improving lives by catalysing the world’s transition to human specific medical research. So our motto is, medical science needs to get nice to start and end with human biology. And so the problems I discussed about the lack of predictiveness of animal testing comes down to several main things. Not only are diseases artificially induced them in animals, so they are not the same diseases that incurring that occurs in humans, but also they are different species. So, you know, 200 years ago, when someone was cutting open a cat to look at how the heart pumps and a cat, you can not that that was kind experiments by any mean. But you can at least say that, yes, the heart pumps generally in the same way in cats and dogs and humans. But today, medicine is dealing with the subtle nuances of molecular biology, genetic expression, and so on. And at this level, even small, subtle differences between species can have a profound result and impact on the study results. So there’s just too many interspecies differences to make animal testing even reliable for trying to understand human biology understand human disease and find the treatments we need. So, so we really believe at the centre part of every sciences, we need to get back to studying human biology, not the biology of a rat, a dog, a non human primate, or a pig, we need to get back to studying human biology. There are many new wonderful techniques that are coming through the pipeline now, that are amazing models of human biology and human diseases. And such such things. Such models include human organs on a chip, now there’s human bodies on the chip in which you distil human organs to their micro components onto a chip, which is where everything happens, disease happens, drug safety, drug effectiveness happens. So you’ve got the human lung, on a chip, the human mini brain on a chip, the human gut, on a chip, human kidney, and so on. And they’re all being connected to create the human body on the chip. Now, this is just one technique, and there are many other techniques that have been developed. And no one technique will give us all the answers we need, but it will take a combination of techniques of like this, but the beauty of these techniques is that they are human tissues, human biology. So this is where we need to go in medical research. This is the future of medical research. So at the Centre for Contemporary sciences, how we help what we do is we help create an ecosystem that supports these type of testing methods. So we are trying to create an ecosystem that drives more funding governmental funding towards the development and use of these human biology focused methods in place of animal testing, to increase investment in companies that are creating these types of technologies. We work on policy to allow for more of these methods to be used in place of animal testing. For example, we work on educating The next generation of scientists to show they’re about these wonderful new techniques that not only will replace an animal testing and reduce human animal suffering, but really is the future of biomedicine. And we work on changing the narrative meaning to show that moving away from animal testing is not only a win for animals, but it’s a win for humans as well. And so with that, I’ll go ahead and stop.
Emilia Leese 25:29
Thank you. That was extraordinary. I mean, some of the things that you said I just, I had never conceptualised in that way. And I mind is completely blown. And as you said, it’s that it’s the waste of the resources, and end of lives, and of potential, it’s just, just absolutely and absolutely mind blowing. The work you’re doing is so vital, quite literally. So for both people and animals, it’s truly inspiring and encouraging to know this research is happening and is gaining momentum. Before we go, where can people follow your work, whether online or elsewhere? And do you have any projects that you’d like to promote?
Sure, so we’re the the Centre for Contemporary sciences. So you can go to contemporary sciences.org. And you can sign up for our newsletter, to learn about any updates. And sometimes we’ll have call to actions. For example, if there’s a policy that you can help influence here, especially if you’re in the United States on policy matters. And you can join our Facebook and our social media, you know, I hate Facebook. But anyway, it’s what we still use for now, you can join our social media, and help spread the word anytime we have an update or something, please spread it to anyone in your network. If you’d like to support us by making a donation, of course, I would never say no to that. We’re a very small nonprofit, two years into the road, and we’ve made some great strides already. So any support will will definitely be welcome. And we’re small, but very flexible organisation. And we have very little overhead. So we use, we use those dollars to the mats here. And I think I would say that if anyone’s interested, we are actually going to be hosting the first ever Investment Summit on replacing animal testing, I believe is the first ever summit worldwide to occur. It’s with an organisation called Beyond animal. Yeah, I know that and so you can look up beyond animal and look at their platform. And you can sign on to register for the summit, which is happening on March 24.
Emilia Leese 27:53
That’s That’s extraordinary. That’s amazing. Thank you so much for your time and and for this brilliant briefing. Really appreciate it.
Now, thank you so much, Emilia for giving me the opportunity to talk about this. In this
Emilia Leese 28:08
episode, we’ve learned we can move beyond animal experimentation to provide people with effective and safe health care and medicines. We’ve advanced in science so much, yet, we’re still relying on arcane methods despite good evidence, they’re no longer fit for purpose. It’s time for a concerted effort to do better by people and animals. Next time, we’ll tackle the misguided notion that veganism is ablest and we’ll hear from her true kazoo, author, blogger and vegan animal rights and inclusivity activist that’s it from me, Emi Leese Thank you for listening. I’ll post the transcript and due course along with links and references to the materials we’ve discussed today on our website, think like a vegan.com and the audio will also be available on Think like a vegan YouTube channel. Remember, you can get in touch by email at Think like a vegan email@example.com or find think like a vegan on most social media, or find me at Emmys good eating.com and on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to this podcast, share it with others and leave us a review. And for our book, Think like a vegan it’s on bookshop.org or anywhere you buy books and on your favourite audio book platform to or ask your local library to carry it. Production credit goes to Jim Moore of bloody vegans productions. Music provided by Jenny Moore’s mystic business the opening tune is flashbacks and we close with tear things up .