Animal Rights: Scientists' Billboards Ask Whether You'd Save a Child or a Lab Rat

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It's not necessary, countered Dallas cardiologist Dr. John Pippin, an advisor to the Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine, which opposes animal research. Pippin said the billboards perpetuate an unproven premise that animals are essential to advancing human health. He said 90 percent of drugs that worked on animals failed in human trials.

"The use of animals to test drugs and to study human diseases has been shown over decades to be a failed paradigm," he said. "To the extent we have methods already that can replace those, we should use them. To the extent that we don't, we should develop them post-haste to replace those methods."

Pippin suggested stem cell research, genetics, and the emerging field of epigenetics, which identifies factors that turn on or silence particular genes, could replace animal studies. But, "there are so many careers and so many institutions that are founded on the animal research paradigm that there is not a great willingness to switch."

Pippin said he spoke as a scientist and dog lover who rose through the scientific ranks while conducting studies on dogs, funded by the American Heart Association. In 1987, he said, he became uneasy about using canine test subjects to understand coronary artery disease and unstable angina in people. "The ethics of it was compelling to me because I always had dogs at home." He abandoned animal studies for human studies.

Pippin expressed concern that extremists divert public attention from reasoned arguments against animal research and for alternatives like stem cell research, which he said "could replace animal testing if we would only focus on it."

UCLA's Ringach said the billboard campaign recognizes researchers' ethical dilemma. "Indeed, the vast majority of scientists and physicians do not see any other way of making substantial progress in some areas of research without the use of animals… The simple message of the billboard challenges the public to ponder the position of animal rights activists who believe our moral consideration for the life of a rat and a human ought to be exactly the same."

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