Of mice and men

By on September 30, 2012
At least the headline, in the 14 July 2012 edition of the British Medical Journal, is honest.  “Animal experiments rose in 2011 despite coalition pledge to reduce them”.

That’s bad news – for the animals.  But what about those experiments?  Well, to start with maybe that word is a little too blunt.  The body of the article does not call a spade a spade, but instead uses the expression “scientific procedures carried out on animals”.  This has a nice benign and impressive ring about it, so don’t worry, everything’s all right.  Oh yes.

We are informed that [in the UK], “In total, 3.79 million scientific procedures were started in 2011…However, breeding of genetically modified animals, mainly mice…accounted for 1.62 million procedures.”

Don’t know if I like the sound of that. Genetically modified? Isn’t that what all the fuss is about over GM crops and Frankenstein foods?

There are enormouse and obvious anatomical, physiological and behavioural differences between mice and men. Here are a few:

Why do they need to modify the genes of mice?  Because normal mice are not sufficiently close to humans for the results of those charming scientific procedures to produce meaningful results.  

Well, it doesn’t matter how much you do genetic engineering (as the ugly phrase has it) on the poor creatures, a mouse is still a mouse.  In my view, such “procedures”, as an attempt to find a cure for human ailments, are of questionable scientific value and may be just a waste of effort and money.   

Ah, money.  Perhaps that’s what it’s all about.  Well, actually, that is what it’s about, as the article goes on to say,  “the government sees expansion of the bioscience sector as a way to boost the UK economy.”

Reassuringly, we are also told, “much progress has been made in the past few years…to minimise suffering.”  This is an admission that animal research does inflict suffering.  Not so reassuring, especially if you happen to be a mouse.  

On the other hand, don’t worry, because, according to one Richard Fosse, vice president of global animal science (he must be important with a title like that) at GlaxoSmithKline (why don’t they put spaces between the names?), “the industry has reduced its use of animals over the past five or six years.”  At least things are going in the right direction, I suppose.   He went on to inform us that (I am not making it up), “The role played by animals is extremely important for the drug discovery process.”  Not just important, mind you, extremely important. Why doesn’t he simply say animal experiments are important for the discovery of new drugs?  In case you should doubt that, he adds, “We take the use of animals seriously.”  I should jolly well hope so. And just in case you still don’t get the point, he finally conveys the astounding news that, “It is not a trivial process for us.”  Nor for the animals, presumably.

Talking of drugs, by pure coincidence Glaxo Smith Kline (that’s better) were recently fined a record $3 billion for unlawfully promoting Paxil® for treating depression in people under 18, and other misdeeds.  

If you are thinking this curious business of using animals to develop drugs for humans cannot get any worse – and I assure you this is not a joke – the final paragraph of the article informs us (emphasis added),  “Most of the 2% overall increase in procedures involving animals last year was a result of a substantial increase in the use of  fish.”

Gabriel Symonds is a general practitioner who runs the Tokyo British Clinic.  Comprehensive medical services are available including 24 hour emergency cover. Tel: 03-5458-6099  www.tokyobritishclinic.com

About Dr. Gabriel Symonds

Dr. Gabriel Symonds was the director of the Tokyo British Clinic. The clinic closed down in May 2014 after serving the expatriate community for 20+ years. Dr. Symonds has retired and the Tokyo British Clinic is now closed. Dr Symonds will continue to live in Tokyo and may be contacted by e-mail over any questions concerning medical records or related matters: symonds@tokyobritishclinic.com He will be available from another address for: smoking cessation psychotherapy/counselling circumcision information Tel: (03) 5458-6099 www.tokyobritishclinic.com