Could COVID-19 Change Medical Research Forever?

Posted by on August 18, 2020 | Permalink

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented shortfalls in funding for medical research – but this could be the dawn of a new, stronger era in medicine.

In light of these financial difficulties, members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) are rightly distressed. In some cases, this could cause their annual research budgets to be cut in half.

However, this sudden reduction in funding doesn’t have to impede AMRC members’ progress towards their goals. In fact, it gives them an opportunity to find ways of spending their money more effectively. By eliminating funding for research that uses animals – which has repeatedly been proved to be expensive and unreliable – and instead prioritising human-relevant research methods, they could do far more with less.

Animal-Free Research Benefits All

Take heart disease: available advanced technology includes the MyHeart™ platform, which is made up of engineered human cardiac tissue and has been able to detect serious problems in drugs that weren’t picked up in animal tests.

Organ-on-a-chip models of blood vessels and functional blood vessels built from human cells are also available for testing human reactions to drugs and modelling cardiovascular disease and are enabling advances in medical research without harming animals.

Experiments on Animals Are a Pointless Waste of Money

In 2019 alone, over 70,000 procedures were carried out on animals in UK laboratories to investigate the cardiovascular system, yet, despite these efforts, few effective treatments for human patients are developed and approved. Even the most widely prescribed cardiovascular disease treatments act primarily to slow the progression of the disease, not cure it.

Some medical research charities have a history of frittering away donors’ money. Despite recent reviews showing that tests on animals can get in the way of developing effective treatments for human diseases, a well-known UK heart disease charity provided funding for projects that would allow experimenters to genetically engineer mice to develop painful and debilitating heart problems.

Other examples of medical research charity funds wasted on cruel, pointless experiments include feeding rats the illegal party drug MDMA (ecstasy) to observe the effect on blood pressure and deliberately inducing heart attacks in rodents.

Why Do Animal Studies Fail?

It’s quite simple: humans are physiologically different from other species. The results of tests on mice, fish, dogs, monkeys, or any other species overwhelmingly do not translate to the same results in humans.

The numbers don’t lie: 95% of all new drugs that test safe and effective in animals fail in human clinical trials, and 90% of “highly promising” basic research findings, most of which involve tests on animals, fail to become routinely used treatments within 20 years.

A sharp reduction in funding will mean drastic changes in the way some medical charities operate, at least in the short term. This is an opportunity to stop funding useless, archaic experiments on animals and set a new course with state-of-the-art, human-relevant approaches.

What Now?

The AMRC’s funding dilemma should be taken seriously, especially given that people suffering from underlying medical conditions are among those most at risk during this pandemic. But while it may present challenges for charities, less money doesn’t mean that efforts to fight diseases need to be reduced or stopped.

Medical research charities have a golden opportunity to switch their focus to modern, humane non-animal methods that have great potential to yield effective treatments and cures for people in desperate need of them.

PETA and our international affiliates are leading a global effort to spare the lives of the millions of animals used each year in deadly experiments and replace them with humane, effective, economical, and modern animal-free research tools.

Use your voice to encourage the government to create a clear strategy for replacing animals in experiments. Sign our petition to support PETA’s Research Modernisation Deal. Lives of all species – ours included – depend on it.