By JOHN RICHARD SCHROCK
Environmental Protection Agency director Andrew Wheeler proclaimed that the E.P.A. would reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mammals in toxicity tests by 2035. The purported basis for this retreat from science is the claim that computer simulations and cell culture (or “in vitro” methods) can fully achieve the same results.
Research using the full organism is referred to as “in vivo” (in life) research. While research may be directed at one distinct metabolic pathway simulated on a computer or in a tissue culture, it is absolutely vital to know of any additional effects that occur in the fabulously complex organism. That is complexity that neither a computer nor tissue culture can copy.
The E.P.A. is in charge of protecting the environment, which includes testing for toxic effects of new chemicals. A computer may be able to predict the effect of a new chemical on a specific tissue. But inside the body, organs such as the liver and kidney break such chemicals into additional metabolic products that cannot be predicted and which in turn often have additional bad effects. The computer and tissue culture will never detect those byproducts and their toxicity.
In an Associated Press report, Prof. Aaron Bowman, head of Purdue University’s School of Health Sciences, warned that “The new testing methods may not capture fully all of human physiology. So animal models help us avoid missing something unexpected and dangerous.”
The Director of the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals’ regulatory testing department told AP that PETA is eager to assist in this transition to alternative test methods. The White Coat Waste Project, another extreme animal rights group, focused on the cost of animal research and called the Wheeler plan a “big win for taxpayers….”
Actual biologists such as Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council, note ending genuine animal testing “is going to allow potentially dangerous chemicals to get out there into the environment and into consumer products.”
White Coat Waste was likewise an actor in getting the U.S.D.A. in April of this year, to end research with cats and the disease they carry—toxoplasmosis—that is very dangerous to humans during pregnancy.
Look in the world-class journals Science and Nature and you will find cutting edge research based on animal models in every issue. Just this last issue of Science featured a study of vaping using mice, and another showing the interaction of spinal nerves and prostate cancer…using mice.
These recent actions are a continuation of restrictions on animal research that is moving the United States closer to several European nations where animal rightists and anti-vivisectionists have essentially halted animal research. The ultimate result is to drive future research that requires animal-based studies to foreign countries, particularly Asia.
Let me repeat. Such restrictions on U.S. research will ensure that more future breakthroughs will be made outside the United States.
John Richard Schrock has trained biology teachers for more than 30 years in Kansas. He also has lectured at 27 universities in 20 trips to China. He holds the distinction of “Faculty Emeritus” at Emporia State University.